Are You Ready to Rumble?
In the era of Ford & Trump, two looks at the latest war between politicians & journalists
Here Comes Adrienne Batra | Inside the Motherisk Scandal Startups and New Models | BuzzFeed in Quizzes and Listicles Feminism in Fashion | Covering Abortion $12.99 Display until Spring 2020 Reporting on Race | Indigenous Health
SPRING 2019 | VOLUME 36, NUMBER 1
ESSAY BY JORDAN CURRIE
64 Diversity-in-Progress How is the drive to build more inclusive, multilingual newsrooms coming along? A report from the inside BY BRYAN MELER
18 Power Hungry What a year it’s been as journalists fight for access against the allconsuming control of the Ford government BY ALANNA RIZZA
70 Hidden History Voices lost in time are found in a new form BY MADELINE CORNACCHIA
24 Driven All you need to know about Adrienne Batra: army veteran, former press secretary to Rob Ford and the current chief of Canada’s primary tabloid
76 Why You Like BuzzFeed So Much and Why It’s Not Going Away An unauthorized history of BuzzFeed and BuzzFeed News in listicles and quizzes BY CELINA GALLARDO
BY SARAH KRICHEL
32 Hitting the Motherlode How one Star reporter’s drive and determination brought on a major investigation into SickKids’ Motherisk lab that blew the lid off a scandal affecting dozens of families BY MICHAL STEIN
82 Green Shoots How small signs of hope are sprouting up across the impoverished local news landscape BY OLIVIA BEDNAR 88 New Kids on the Block As old media crumbles, these startups are moving in
38 Northern Exposure With Canada’s increased relevance in the world, international publications and broadcasters are seeing us through a new lens
96 The Path to Healing Diagnosing flaws and finding treatments for the way journalists report on Indigenous health issues BY ALEXA TAYLOR
44 The Empress’s New Clothes With a renewed surge of activism and outrage from women, the media meant to serve them has found yet another consumer good to sell: feminism BY KATHERINE SINGH
102 Searching for Solutions A new way to report on social issues BY DAVID VENN 108 Yesterday’s Heroes Inside the dwindling profession of the music critic BY HANNAH ZIEGLER 112 Rolling with the Punches The world’s premier mixed martial arts journalist, Montreal’s Ariel Helwani, reflects on his scrappy path to success BY AURORA ZBOCH 118 You’ve Got Mail Are e-newsletters the answer to journalism’s declining readership? BY TANNER MORTON 120 Up and At ’Em! Sun’s up! Coffee’s on! A behind-thescenes look at the perky world of morning TV BY SKYLER ASH
ON THE COVER 12 Are You Ready to Rumble? 24 Here Comes Adrienne Batra 58 Reporting on Race 32 Inside the Motherisk Scandal
ILLUSTRATION: ANTONY HARE
OPINION BY LINSEY RASCHKOWAN
BY ANDREW CRUICKSHANK
BY DANIEL MULLIE
54 What Journalists Don’t Talk About When Women Talk About Abortion Why don’t newspapers and other media bring a greater focus on the lived experience? The case for more first-person abortion narratives
ILLUSTRATION: FRANZISKA BARCZYK
58 Framing the Story Who gets to report on race?
12 When They Push, We Push Back How journalists are adapting to the age of Trump, Twitter, and fake news BY RHIANNA JACKSON-KELSO
82 Startups and New Models 76 BuzzFeed in Quizzes and Listicles 44 Feminism in Fashion 54 Covering Abortion 96 Indigenous Health
Cover illustration: Dushan Milic
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PHOTO: COURTESY JIM RANKIN & MICHELLE SHEPHARD
4 Film Fact Check Verifying Hollywood’s journalism blockbusters with our first Daniel Dale awards BY HANNAH ZIEGLER MUSIC
6 The Journalist’s Playlist The ups and downs of life as a young reporter, through song BY MADELINE CORNACCHIA
27 Men of Letters 1 Plying the family trade in an industry on the rocks BY ANDREW CRUICKSHANK OBIT
129 Under His Wing Critic Kevin Courrier’s respect for the craft of writing shone through in his mentoring of a new generation BY LINSEY RASCHKOWAN ROMANCE
30 Can’t Get You Out of My Headline 1 Filled with coffee-stained notebooks, constantlyringing phones, and battling egos, newsrooms are arguably the last places love might exist. But, like a flower growing out of cracked concrete, these journalist couples have proven otherwise. Here are their stories BY KATHERINE SINGH AND CELINA GALLARDO ENTER TAINMENT
132 Signs and Bylines The journalist’s horoscope BY MICHAL STEIN
8 Left Behind The online news world is out of reach for far too many Canadians BY JORDANA GOLDMAN NUMBERS
9 Bridging the Gap How the lack of race-based stats affects journalists BY LIDIA ABRAHA WORDPL AY
10 A New Piece of an Old Puzzle Popular in print, crosswords are poised to flourish as publications push them online BY OLIVIA BEDNAR
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.
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134 In Profile Liz Renzetti explores what it means to be a woman the same way she always has: with wit and wisdom to spare BY MICHAL STEIN THEATRE
136 Stage Write Taking long-form journalism off the page BY ADAM CHEN
PHOTO: LISA MACINTOSH
7 Back to the Start Canadian journalists’ memorable early stories BY SKYLER ASH
Making good reporters takes a village
DURING MY FIRST YEAR OF JOURNALISM SCHOOL, I contributed
Editor & Chief Visuals Editor Celina Gallardo
Business & Audience Engagement Team
Managing Editor Tanner Morton
to Ryerson Folio Magazine, a general interest publication. Earlier that year, the editors held a low-key gathering at which people could get to know more about Folio’s work. When I entered the event space, surrounded by floor-to-ceiling windows and glass walls, one executive editor greeted me immediately. After shaking my cold hand, she asked about my year and program. When I answered, she paused. “Come with me,” she said before gently grabbing my wrist, pulling me away from a slowly forming crowd. She was in her third year of journalism, but still vividly remembered her first year and its obstacles. While maintaining steady eye contact, she assured me that, despite all the strife and setbacks, I would be coming out of it all as a great writer. And, after my first year, I spent the next two years in editorial positions at Folio. I learned so much from journalism school, but it was in extracurricular communities where I truly grew as a journalist. Having editors who presented themselves as equals made me feel more comfortable with being creative and experimental with the stories I chose to tell. And this is no revolutionary notion: Journalists have formed communities online to support one another in an era of rapid change. A Facebook group called “Canadian Journalists of Colour,” for example, is a space where racialized reporters share job openings and begin discourses, in the hopes of uplifting marginalized voices and creating newsrooms that are less straight, white, and male. Outside of this Facebook group, journalists have also been quick to aid those who had been laid-off. This sense of collaboration is also the foundation of the RRJ. This year, everyone had their fair share of exhaustion, whether it be from producing a weekly podcast, managing three events or fact checking the smallest details. But amidst the chaos, we did our best to have some fun. We laughed, groaned, showed sides of ourselves that others have never seen before and, as a bonus perk, we got our stuff done. All of this was possible because of the community we had built for ourselves at the RRJ, the essential ingredient to pulling together this issue, which looks into how journalists are pushing against angry politicians, financial instability, and shaky diversity efforts. At their core, these stories highlight what most journalists already know: that our industry is in a state of crisis and uncertainty. But alongside grief, our stories also attempt to give glimpses of hope, from promising new business models to journalists helping other journalists. Because if stakeholders, politicians, and our readers fail to support our work, it’s up to us to ensure that good journalism continues to exist, and that journalists can keep growing and thriving within supportive communities. — CELINA G ALL ARDO
Volume 36, Number 1
Managing Editor Daniel Mullie Production Editor Skyler Ash Senior Editor & Chief Copy Editor Andrew Cruickshank Senior Editors Olivia Bednar Rhianna Jackson-Kelso David Venn Digital Team Managing Editor Katherine Singh Production Editor Alanna Rizza Senior Editor & Chief Copy Editor Sarah Krichel Senior Editors Kyra Butterworth Hannah Ziegler Chief Podcast Producer Michal Stein Podcast Producer Lidia Abraha Creative Services & Quality Control Team Copy Editors Jordan Currie Alexa Taylor Chiefs of Research Bryan Meler Linsey Raschkowan Visuals Editor Madeline Cornacchia
Sales & Sponsorship Editor Aurora Zboch Social Media & Newsletter Editor Jordana Goldman Conference Editors Adam Chen Premila D’Sa (Fall term) Instructors Sonya Fatah Stephen Trumper Art Director Dave Donald Research Consultant Veronica Maddocks Story Editors Andrea Bennett, Haley Cullingham, Lynn Cullingham, Tim Falconer, Laura Howells, Rhianna JacksonKelso, Erica Lenti, Carly Lewis, Sandra E. Martin, Bill Reynolds, Soraya Roberts Lawyers Brian Rogers Special Thanks Lindsay Hanna, Angela Glover, Sally Goldberg Powell, Gary Gould, Jaclyn Mika, Lesley Salvadori Publisher Janice Neil Business Manager Aseel Kafil Advertising Sales Steve Goetz, Trevor Battye Founding Editor Don Obe Founding Art Director Jim Ireland Printer Maracle Inc.
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
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Film Fact Check
Verifying Hollywood’s journalism blockbusters with our first Daniel Dale Awards B Y HANNAH ZIEGLER THIRTY-TWO YEARS AGO, Holly Hunter
hilariously portrayed fictional broadcast journalist Jane Craig in Broadcast News. The film follows Jane and her colleagues as they navigate the hectic world of TV news. Day-to-day routines include Jane reserving a brief period in her packed schedule to sob. While this take on life in the newsroom may be relatable to some, it’s not based on a single true story. Recently though, Hollywood has tried its hand at depicting real journalistic events, like former Toronto Star city hall reporter Robyn Doolittle’s 2013 investigation into former mayor Rob Ford’s crack scandal. The film is not entirely centered around or based on the Star and Ford. The reporter in the film, for instance, was cast as a man— an inaccuracy Doolittle addressed with a tongue-in-cheek tweet: “I’m glad they’re rewriting the fact that it was a female reporter who investigated Rob Ford. Why have a woman be a lead character when a man could do it? Ammaright?” Let’s take a look at some other journalism films, and see if they stand up a bit better to fact checking.
Spotlight (2015) 4.5 DANIEL DALES / 5
Spotlight won over critics and audiences alike in 2015, receiving the Oscar for Best Picture. It tells the story of the Boston Globe reporters, led by Michael Rezendes (Mark Ruffalo) and Sacha Pfeiffer (Rachel McAdams), who investigated decades of allegations against members of the Catholic Church accused of sexually assaulting children. For the most part, Spotlight is as accurate as the reporting Rezendes and Pfeiffer conducted nearly 20 years ago. However, there are some small inaccuracies that might go unnoticed by the average viewer. Alison Bass, a Globe employee at the time of the investigation, said that the discovery of important research documents at one point in the film was over-dramaticized. Apparently, the survey, which found that around six percent of American priests had molested children, was not as difficult to find as it appeared in the film. Bass also explained that the film does not show enough detail about previous stories that were conducted on the sexual misconduct of the church, dating back to the early 1990s. All in all, Spotlight gets it right.
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The Post (2017)
A Private War (2018)
4 DANIEL DALES / 5
3.5 DANIEL DALES / 5
Another award-winner, The Post details the thrilling story of Katharine “Kay” Graham (Meryl Streep), former publisher of the Washington Post and CEO of the Washington Post Company, during the release of the Pentagon Papers—documents that revealed the depth and deception behind U.S. involvement in the Vietnam War. This film is not entirely historically accurate— but it never claims to be. Screenwriter Liz Hannah did not base her research on historic accounts; rather, she drew inspiration and knowledge from memoirs of key characters. One of the biggest critiques of The Post is the New York Times’ role in the film—or lack thereof. Despite being one of the major players in publishing the Pentagon Papers, the film does not emphasize the rival paper’s presence during this historical event (but they do acknowledge it). In general, The Post captures the spirit of the story, giving audiences a look behind the scenes during a major moment in journalism history.
A Private War, the tale of famed Sunday Times war reporter Marie Colvin, doesn’t stem from a biography or several articles. Instead, it takes notes from the Vanity Fair profile “Marie Colvin’s Private War.” The film depicts Colvin and her experiences in the frontlines of battlegrounds quite accurately, hardly having to sensationalize since it takes place while Colvin was reporting in the midst of a staged coup in the Syrian city of Homs. Rosamund Pike portrays Colvin and stars alongside Jamie Dornan, Tom Hollander, and Stanley Tucci. Though mostly fair in its depiction of events, the script does veer off occasionally. Case in point, a side plot is created dealing with Colvin’s love interests; her first husband, David Irens, and new lover, Tony Shaw. The characters of David and Tony are based off Colvin’s real ex-husband and her partner at the time of her death. Director Matthew Heineman told Time Magazine that he fictionalized the two men out of respect for their privacy. Additional fictional characters were added, like a young reporter accompanying Colvin—representing all the young journalists she mentored over time—and the character of Norm Coburn, a longtime friend and fellow reporter.
Whiskey Tango Foxtrot (2016) 3 DANIEL DALES / 5
Tina Fey brings her comedic charm to the world of war reporting in Whiskey Tango Foxtrot, a film based on war correspondent Kim Barker’s memoir, The Taliban Shuffle. According to Barker, the film is accurate in the way it balances the horrors of wartime with moments of humour, just as she wrote in her book. There are some obvious changes made in the film; Fey plays Kim Baker (rather than Barker), a photojournalist (instead of print). The name change was on purpose, to mark the separation between book and film. As such, Foxtrot also depicts some of Kim’s relationships differently. According to Barker, a former Pakistani prime minister did flirt with her, but the scene in the film between Kim and the Afghani attorney general is heightened for dramatic effect.
Shattered Glass (2003) 5 DANIEL DALES / 5
If any film on this list makes the case for fact checking, it’s this one. Shattered Glass, a 2003 docudrama, is all about lies, so the pressure to present Stephen Glass’s story honestly was high. Glass was a respected writer at the New Republic in the 1990s, until it was revealed he commited multiple journalistic frauds—the most notorious case involving a fictional hacker and made-up software company. The film does an excellent job of picking up on character traits and habits, like Glass’s charm and quirks, described in the Vanity Fair story it’s based on. The storyline follows the historical events to a tee. The attention to detail does not go unnoticed, so we’re giving it a perfect accuracy grade…but can we ever be entirely sure?
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The Journalist’s Playlist The ups and downs of life as a young reporter, through song B Y MADELINE CORNACCHIA
“Intern” by Angel Olsen “Doesn’t matter who you are or what you’ve done/ Still got to wake up and be someone” Congratulations on completing your degree! Maybe you graduated at the top of your class. Maybe you barely scraped by—but that’s all behind you now. Time to enter the workforce and get some bylines. “I don’t care what the papers say/ It’s just another intern with a resume” Even though you worked hard in school, you seem to blend in with the swarm of other recent graduates. You’ve applied to dozens of internships, but you can’t seem to land one. “Everyone I know has got their own ideal/ I just want to be alive, make something real/ Doesn’t matter who you are or what you do/ Something in the work will make a fool of you” It’s hard out there, but you know you’re talented and you want the chance to prove it, to create something life-altering, and be a watchdog of democracy. But everyone starts somewhere. It doesn’t matter what you do— write stories, edit copy, check facts. You will find your path.
“You Never Give Me Your Money” by the Beatles
“How’s About Tellin’ A Story” by Devendra Banhart
“You never give me your money/ You only give me your funny paper/ And in the middle of negotiations/ You break down”
“Well how’s about tellin’ a story/ One that’s really about somebody/ What they saw and what they did/ How they died and how they lived”
Now that you’ve worked an internship (or two, or three), you’re ready for a steady, paid gig. But hardly anyone is hiring. You’re still waiting on cheques from the last three freelance articles you wrote, and while negotiating this with the editors, the publication just…folds.
After you’ve had a good cry, take a minute to breathe. Remember why you started this career in the first place—to tell stories. To write about people. Brave people, innovative people, impassioned people, thought-provoking people. To share true stories about the virtues, the hardships, and the marvels of living on this planet. And that is a commendable aspiration.
“Out of college, money spent/ See no future, pay no rent/ All the money’s gone, nowhere to go” The future may seem rather bleak right now, with major layoffs throughout the industry and few job openings. It feels like just yesterday you were a proud graduate, but now you’re floating in a liminal space.
“Freelance” by Toro y Moi “Nothing’s ever worse than work unnoticed/ Freelance now, yeah, I guess you earned it/ Life is only wishing we could load it/ Level up, you’ve got to make a bonus” Freelancing is a tough gig, and sometimes it can feel like you have to walk on water to get noticed. Journalists face a lot of pressure to be constantly grinding, always staying on top of their personal brand, and never taking a day off. It’s only a matter of time before you snap!
“It’s Okay to Cry” by SOPHIE “And I saw the magazine you were reading/ And I read the page/ And if I had just one single wish/ Wish I could have said this/ It’s okay to cry”
“Oom Sha La La” by Haley Heynderickx “The milk is sour/ I’ve barely been to college/ And I’ve been doubtful/ Of all that I have dreamed of ” We have all experienced self-doubt. When our dreams don’t shape up to reality, it’s easy to come down hard on ourselves. Try to zoom out and look at your existence from a different perspective. Learn to laugh at yourself once in a while. “I’m throwing out the milk/ The olives got old/ I’m tired of my mind getting heavy with mould/ I need to start a garden” Visualize clearing out all of the badness that manifests in your mind, and instead, nurture your foundation and plant new dream seeds. Soon, fresh thoughts will bloom, and you’ll be ready to face life head on, with all of its calamity and contentment. Good luck out there, journalist.
Covering sensitive stories day-to-day can be emotionally taxing, but worrying about the precarity of your job is an added stress. Sometimes, it’s okay to put down the magazine, step back from the workload, and let it all out—just sob. Bawl your eyes out, wail, weep, break down. It’s a healthy release from all the daily pressures you face.
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Back to the Start Canadian journalists’ memorable early stories B Y SKYLER ASH
Susanne Craig, investigative reporter, the New York Times Working as a reporter at the Gauntlet, the University of Calgary’s student newspaper, Craig spent much of her time writing about the student union. She received a tip that the student union president had been misusing his campus parking pass. With the pass, he could park anywhere on campus, except for one heated, underground parking lot that happened to be underneath his office. On a cold Calgary morning, Craig and three other reporters planned a “stakeout.” Splitting into two cars, they drove out to the president’s house and waited for him to get into his car and leave. “We followed him… right into the heated underground parking lot,” Craig said. The team took photos of the president getting out of his car. “He didn’t know we were following him...Laid bare, it was a pretty big abuse of power at the time on campus. It caused a lot of grief for the student union president,” she said with a laugh. From breaking in her gumshoes at the Gauntlet, Craig would go on to work at the Calgary Herald, the Windsor Star, and the Financial Post, where she gained experience as a business reporter. Following a stint at the Globe and Mail and work at the Wall Street Journal, Craig left for the New York Times, where she received an envelope in her mailbox containing Trump’s 1995 tax records, a beat she continues to work.
Norris McDonald, automotive reporter, the Toronto Star It was November 22, 1963. Working as the sports editor at the Pembroke Daily Observer, McDonald arrived at work on a Friday to find the office empty, except for his boss. A note on his typewriter said he’d been suspended from his column for two weeks: A reprimand for backlash over his previous day’s column, critical of a local hockey team. McDonald sat down and wrote his resignation. Just as his boss finished reading it and opened his mouth to say something, he was cut short by the sharp ding ding ding of the teletype, which rang when news broke. After reading it, McDonald’s boss looked at him and said, “Well, you just resigned as sports editor. Would you accept a job as a general reporter?” The 35th President of the United States, John F. Kennedy, had just been shot. McDonald went on to cover all sorts of things, including Richard Nixon’s resignation. Decades later, he settled as an editor and automotive reporter for the Toronto Star. He took a buyout at 74 and signed a contract to keep writing for the section. In 2013, he was the first journalist to be inducted into the Canadian Motorsport Hall of Fame.
Denise Balkissoon, opinion columnist, the Globe and Mail The first story Balkissoon ever sold was the one she received an “F” for in her final year of journalism school at Carleton University. She had written about a female publisher at Hustler Canada, a pornographic magazine. She sold the story to the National Post. The week it was set to go to print, Balkissoon realized just in time she had misspelled the name of her main character all the way through the story. “I got to tell the Post I spelled it wrong
and that was extremely embarrassing,” said Balkissoon, “but also confidence building at the same time. It was a strange experience.” A framed copy of the story still sits in her basement, a gift from a friend for a past birthday. After graduation, Balkissoon freelanced at Xtra and Toronto Life before she and some friends started the Ethnic Aisle, a Torontobased publication that focused on diverse, multicultural stories. She’s now a columnist at the Globe.
Brett Ruskin, reporter/ videojournalist, CBC Halifax had been hit hard by an intense blizzard in 2015. Ruskin left the newsroom at Global News with his camera in hand to go find a story. He made it a short distance from the office before stopping. Police cars and fire trucks crowded the side of a street near some stairs that led down to a row of houses. It was snowing and deep embankments had formed. Making his way over, he discovered first responders helping a woman in labour up the stairs and into an ambulance, all while navigating snowy conditions. Afterwards, he knocked on doors to get footage of neighbours who had witnessed the action. On his way to the car, he heard distant cries. “I turned around, and there was a second woman who was waist-deep in a snowbank,” said Ruskin. Unbelievably, she was in labour, too. “I clicked record on my camera, put it down, and jumped into this snowbank and sort of swam through the snow out to her.” He helped her out and called an ambulance. The story went viral, with Ruskin doing interviews left and right. “The real hero in all of this was the mother,” Ruskin said. “She knew exactly what to do. I was just there to help her along.” Ruskin now works for CBC where he does video work daily.
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The online news world is out of reach for far too many Canadians B Y JORDANA GOLDMAN BETWEEN THE HOURS OF 4 P.M. and mid-
night, Ashleigh Weeden goes dark. Not for the usual reasons, though. In Weeden’s rural Southwestern Ontario community, the internet connection becomes, for all practical purposes, nonexistent during that time. Weeden, a PhD student at the University of Guelph, lives in Ariss, Ontario, a “dispersed rural community” sandwiched between urban centres like Guelph and Kitchener. Despite paying $250 a month for internet, she finds herself shut out of the online world for long periods of the day. “I can’t do anything. There’s no point. I might as well give up until about midnight.” Situated about 22 kilometres northeast of Waterloo, one of Canada’s leading technology centres, Ariss residents still struggle to access the internet at a time when traditional news media—and new journalism ventures—are reaching their audiences online. Over the past decade and a half, the journalism industry has struggled to find sources of revenue. “Established news organizations have been left gasping, while native digital alternatives have failed to develop journalistic mass, especially in local news,” reads The Shattered Mirror, a Public Policy Forum report published in 2017 analyzing the precarious state of new media in Canada. Journalism is an integral component of democracy, with freedom of communication and expression protected under Section 2b of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. However, with an industry in flux amid mass buyouts
and layoffs, and many publications shuttering print publications entirely, or shifting strictly online, it is time to ask: Who is being left in the dark? Canada is among the world’s most digitally savvy audiences (according to comScore data, Canadians averaged 41.3 hours per month online in 2013.) Yet, many people—because of geography, income, and
other socio-economic factors—find themselves unable to tap into Canada’s new media reality. The importance of access to the internet is not lost on the Canadian government. In 2016, the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) declared basic broadband internet access
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4829784133 7583153904 5032436180
of 50 Mbps download/10 Mbps upload a “basic telecommunications service” and a necessity in all Canadian homes. According to a report by the Brookfield Institute, it was estimated that two million households, roughly 18 percent of homes across Canada, did not meet these standards. Gaps are prominent between urban and rural communities. According to the Canadian Internet Registration Authority’s (CIRA) Internet Factbook 2018, a source for Canada’s current internet data, rural communities have an average download speed of 11.15 Mbps and an average upload speed of 5.45 Mbps, compared to urban communities with an average download speed of 22.92 Mbps and an average upload speed of 12.4 Mbps. The Brookfield study concluded that factors limiting access also contribute to further isolating those who are already marginalized. “Choosing internet has been the choice between choosing food for myself or choosing to remain connected, and there have been times where I’ve chosen to not have internet,” says Elijah, a single, transgender parent living in Toronto’s Church and Wellesley area. Elijah, who requested to have his name altered for privacy reasons, says that without internet there’s a real feeling of disconnection from the news of the world. “Newsprint doesn’t stay up to date. It is printed that day, so when you get that newspaper, it is old news…It’s useless after that day.” Read the full investigative feature at rrj.ca.
Bridging the Gap
How the lack of race-based stats affects journalists B Y LIDIA ABR AHA
RACISM IN CANADA is a topic that easily
gets swept under the rug if there aren’t numbers to back it up. This has lead to a trend in Canadian media where stories about race are often framed as isolated incidents. When the next report on increased hate crimes comes out, or another attack occurs and makes headlines, people are ready to talk about racism—but there’s rarely meaningful follow through. In late 2018, Statistics Canada revealed the number of hate crimes in the country had increased by 47 percent in 2017. Statistics and data spark stories about race, but why aren’t more journalists writing those stories? The simple answer is that the numbers aren’t there. That’s what Globe and Mail journalists Eric Andrew-Gee and Tavia Grant uncovered in their Data Gap series, which revealed appalling lapses in Canada’s public data system. In a country where many consider themselves more progressive than their neighbours to the south, there aren’t enough numbers to prove it. There are huge holes in data about the Canadian health and education sector, and especially in the collection of race-based data. To learn more about race-based data journalism, the issues facing Canadian media today, and what can be done about them, head to RRJ.ca to listen to an exclusive documentary podcast, featuring input from Jim Rankin from the Toronto Star, human rights lawyer Anthony Morgan, and policy researcher Brittany Andrew-Amofah.
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BULLETINS WORDPL AY
A New Piece of an Old Puzzle Popular in print, crosswords are poised to flourish as publications push them online B Y OLIVIA BEDNAR 22 Down. The Last Jedi director Johnson. Answer: Rian. DEREK BOWMAN WAS THE FIRST to use the
popular filmmaker’s name in a crossword puzzle. When the puzzle appeared in the New York Times, Johnson, an avid solver, tweeted out his excitement. He joked that he was going to change his name to “22 Down.” The Twitter thread, with over 250 replies, echoed enthusiasm from other crossword buffs and Johnson’s fans alike. Bowman, a crossword constructor from Winnipeg, was over the moon. LAST SUMMER, as a result of a Torstar
and Postmedia swap, many changes were made to local Ontario papers, but by far, the changing of the crossword garnered the most complaints, says Kennedy Gordon, managing editor of the Peterborough Examiner. The paper even began to lose subscribers over the crossword being too easy, too American, or too hip. Finally, the crossword was changed chain-wide across Metroland papers, introducing two options to satisfy all readers. “There are some things you don’t mess with,” Gordon says. “Puzzles are one.” As print media is on the decline and newspapers are downsizing in seemingly any way possible, the crossword is the unlikely champion of tradition, continuing to assert its place in modern media through the sheer joy of its solvers (also known as cruciverbalists). And although scribbling in the margins and furious erasing are staples of the print crossword experience, its transition into the digital era has been quite successful. The New York Times built their crossword app for iOS in 2014, followed by an Android launch in 2016. By the summer of 2018, the app had garnered over 400,000 standalone
subscribers, doubling its numbers in two years. New York Magazine followed suit, debuting its digital crossword in March 2019, allowing solvers to complete its crossword on desktops or on the app from anywhere in the world. Unique to the New York Times’ digital franchise is their “Daily Mini Crossword Puzzle.” A 5x5 square grid with simpler clues, making the puzzle more accessible. And all its online and app crosswords are timed, which means you can beat your own time or a friend’s. “A lot of people talk about growing up solving with their grandmother, with their dad, etc.” says Eric von Coelln, the executive director of puzzles at the New York Times. “And that’s how there became that social bond around that print, physical crossword.” Von Coelln says the team is currently working on new changes to the app to replicate that social bond but online, like a mini leaderboard. They’re also in the early stages of creating digital collaborative play so people can put their heads together and solve the crossword with each other, even if they are not physically in the same place. It’s fitting that the New York Times crossword is at the forefront of this digital transformation. Its first puzzle was published 77 years ago, in 1942, after the attack on Pearl Harbour resulted in nightly blackouts, implemented as a protection against further attacks. Thus, the crossword puzzle was born as a distraction and a source of comfort during those bleak times. “That origin of the puzzle continues to be a diversion,” von Coelln says. “But I think we’ve added the cleverness and the ‘a-ha’ moments and more of that wordplay into the puzzle, and you get those little bits of joy while you’re solving.”
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With all its popularity, who’s designing these crosswords? (After all, it’s not often you meet a crossword constructor.) Bowman would tell you he’s a full-time library assistant, but the 39-year-old has been constructing crosswords since he was a child, and has been getting paid for them since his 20s. He was first published in his university paper, the Manitoban, but his big break didn’t come until age 26, when he finally got an acceptance from the Los Angeles Times. Now, he’s been published copiously in the New York Times, among others. Recently, crossword constructors have been getting more credit for their work. As of January 2019, the New York Times’ crossword editor, Will Shortz, announced a pay raise for contributors. The rate for a daily crossword was raised from around $300 to $500, and if a puzzle gets chosen for a Sunday slot, the constructor now receives $1,500 instead of around $1,000. After a constructor completes their 10th puzzle, the rates are even higher. (Shortz and his team receive over 100 submissions a week from around the world, and solve every single puzzle before providing feedback.) “It takes a lot of time and effort to put into a good puzzle.” Bowman says. “They’re starting to pay people a more reasonable amount for the number of hours that go into it.” He works about 30 hours per puzzle. WHILE THE NEW YORK TIMES appears to be
the crossword mecca, Canada has a crossword scene of its own. Fraser Simpson, a retired math teacher, is the country’s longest running crossword constructor. His works appearing across the nation, and his Saturday cryptic crossword has appeared in the Globe and Mail since 1994. He says it takes him four hours and 25 years to construct one of his cryptic crosswords—25 years of experience, that is, to be able to do it in four hours. Simpson constantly carries a pen and paper around with him—to the movies, out on walks, while reading books—recording different phrases he hears and new ways to use words. “I constantly have little bits of paper
with words written on them around the house, and I go and collect them and put them in my word lists, and then I’m back to zero again,” Simpson says. “It’s an ongoing process.” When Simpson was starting out in the eighties, long hours were spent with pencil to paper. Now, there are programs like Crossword Compiler that constructors can use to help them fill the grids more efficiently. The programs can store word lists, which help by suggesting where certain words can fit in a grid. But the clues are all written by hand. Human wit is something computers cannot seem to replicate—yet. “It’s a very popular pastime for people. Things are so serious nowadays that a diversion to that is very welcome for people,” Bowman says. “And thankfully for me, it’s keeping my side gig going.”
HAVE YOU BEEN PAYING ATTENTION? Many of the answers for this journalism-themed crossword can be found in the pages of this magazine. If you’re stumped, consider giving a few of our features another read! Across 1. First half of the capital city of Iowa 4. World’s first national Indigenous broadcaster 8. American public radio personality Glass 9. Something you might do at the altar 12. ___ Media, once owner of several tabloid and broadsheet newspapers in Canada 13. Reseal a container, say 14. Converse in a friendly and informal way 16. Stopped standing 17. Words of agreement 20. Former newspaper publisher Conrad with a controversial reputation 22. With “the,” a term for the period of British rule in India
5. Kotb of NBC News 2 27. With “nothing,” do whatever it takes to accomplish something 30. Series of letters representing alliterative waste management words 31. Center for Journalism ______ 32. Resident of the Forest of Fangorn 33. Tide when high and low water levels are closest 34. French first person plural pronoun Down 1. With “the,” a West Coast digital startup that uses a membership model 2. Responses to a difficult question, maybe 3. Capital of Yemen 4. U.S. sch. whose mascot is Sparky the Sun Devil 5. Central American country that is also a type of hat 6. IATA code for Tokyo metropolitan area airports, including Haneda and Narita airports 7. Sharp bites, as from a dog 10. U.S. anti-drug smuggling and distribution org. 11. CJRT-FM program co-hosted by Kevin Courrier in the ’80s 15. Gov. agency that oversees rail and aviation 18. Mountain-dwelling relative of the llama 19. German first-person pronoun 21. Controversial doctor of now-defunct hair testing lab 23. The world’s largest telecommunications company, headquartered in Dallas, Texas 24. Former Toronto Star publisher Cruickshank 26. 1962 spy film starring Sean Connery 28. Baked good that can be sweet or savoury 29. Baking meas. For the answers to the crossword, visit RRJ.ca Crossword clues and answers by Rhianna Jackson-Kelso
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JOURNALISTS VS. POLITICIANS With political figures like Donald Trump and Doug Ford doing all they can to impede media access, how do journalists best react? Two explorations into how these North American leaders are aggressively trying to change the way news is told and how reporters are fighting back
When They Push, We Push Back How journalists are adapting to the age of Trump, Twitter and fake news B Y RHIANNA JACKSON-KELSO ILLUSTRATION BY GRAHAM ROUMIEU
ON A WARM AFTERNOON, JULY 31, 2018,
Lisa MacLeod, Ontario’s Minister of Children, Community, and Social Services, stands in Queen’s Park’s Ontario Room to announce the government’s plan to scrap the basic income pilot project. As per the new normal, she then takes a limited number of questions. Toward the end of the Q&A, when the Toronto Star’s Rob Ferguson asks how much money the cancellation will save taxpayers, MacLeod grows defensive. It’s not about saving money, she says, prompting several other reporters to ask how much it will save, breaking the five-question, one-at-a-time rules that have been in force since Ontario’s 42nd parliament began—earlier than expected—three weeks ago. To quell the uprising, Progressive Conservative staffers at the back of the room burst into applause and drown out reporters. The clapping tactic started on the campaign trail with supporters applauding and chanting while then-candidate and PC leader Doug Ford slipped out of press conferences and rallies, and has continued through the administration’s whirlwind start. In July alone, Ford’s gov-
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ernment has moved to cancel an under-construction green energy project the former Liberal government approved; cancel the cap and trade program; reduce Toronto’s City Council from 47 wards to 25; roll back the province’s health and physical education curriculum; and, now, cancel the basic income pilot project—giving journalists plenty of things to ask questions about, if only they could get a word in. For weeks, frustrated Queen’s Park journalists have grumbled about the rookie government’s efforts to control them, but this time they clap back. “Don’t do that!” shouts Colin D’Mello of CTV News, turning around to face the staffers crowding the back of the room. “Can you please stop clapping? This is a professional environment. Stop it. Take that into the Legislature if you guys want to act that way.” “Shameful behaviour. Shameful,” Randy Rath of CHCH News, a veteran Queen’s Park reporter known for his blunt questions and gruff personality, quickly piles on. “What’s fuckin’ wrong with you guys?” Ferguson follows up, admonishing, “It’s not kindergarten, for god’s sake.” As interim president of the press gallery, he is usually diplomatic, but not this time: “Jesus Christ!”
ited access, and an internet-powered news cycle that runs too hot. In today’s battles between journalists and those they cover, there is a kind of informational Maginot Line. The barriers are massive, yet journalists are finding new ways to work around them.
ON AUGUST 15, 2018, THE EDITORIAL BOARD of the Boston Globe published a call to editorial boards across the United States, urging them to act against Trump’s assault on the free press: “For more than two centuries, this foundational American principle has protected journalists at home and served as a model for free nations abroad. Today it is under serious threat.” Trump’s disdain for journalists and Ford’s clapping staffers might seem alarming, but they are not the first leaders to strike combative poses with the press. United States President Theodore Roosevelt, 1901–09, shook up the traditional relationship, summarily banishing reporters he felt had wronged him and granting near unprecedented access to those he trusted. Roosevelt also popularized a disparaging term for investigative journalists: “muckrakers.” Another American president, Richard Nixon, 1969–74, became obsessed with control, perhaps rattled by the negative reception to
“Journalists and journalism have a growing image problem” Some staffers look at their feet. Others pretend not to hear, staring past incensed reporters at the podium MacLeod has vacated. Eventually, they trickle out and return to their offices. Though the incident is not the last instance of clapping staffers drowning out reporters, it marks a change in the press corps’ attitude. Reporters such as Marieke Walsh of iPolitics, Travis Dhanraj of Global News, and Cynthia Mulligan of CityNews—a veteran at covering both Rob and Doug Ford—begin shooting video of staffers clapping and posting the spectacle on Twitter. The incident gains traction in the news cycle. The day after, iPolitics publishes a Walsh story pointing out that, technically, staffers are using taxpayers’ money to clap at press conferences. Three days later, The Agenda’s Steve Paikin, in a TVO blog post, hails press gallery journalists for fighting back. On August 9, CBC Radio online calls the phenomenon “unprecedented” and runs a photo of PC staffers in mid-clap. On August 13, journalists assemble in the Ontario Room to hear that staffers will no longer mark the conclusion of press conferences with clapping. Jessica Smith Cross, a QP Briefing reporter, attributes the change, in part, to reporters shouting back. “There was significant concern from the press gallery,” she says. “[We] publicized what was going on.” This Ontario-centric relationship between governments and the journalists who cover them reflects a larger dynamic. North American political journalists must cover bellicose politicians such as Donald Trump and Doug Ford in an age of media distrust, lim-
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his televised debate with John F. Kennedy during the 1960 presidential campaign. He set up the first White House communications office to stage special television events. Canada’s history of rough patches between government and press extends back to the beginning of our nation. Of Sir John A. MacDonald’s administration, 1867–73 and 1878–91, John Willison, then the Ottawa correspondent for the Globe and Mail, said, “It was difficult, if not impossible, to secure information from public departments.” On April 17, 1965, writer and activist June Callwood penned an article for Maclean’s magazine in which she lamented a decline in the government’s respect for the press. “Along with such epithets as ‘drunks,’ ‘incompetents,’ and ‘deadbeats,’” she wrote, “the gallery has been belabored with ‘dull and pedestrian’ (Frank H. Underhill), ‘servile’ (John Diefenbaker), and ‘mediocre’ (Douglas Fisher).” Callwood posited that authorities of the day largely felt “that the gallery pounces on a government’s mistakes and magnifies them, presenting a distorted picture to the voters which speedily leads to a change in government,” a view reiterated in complaints of “fake news.” More recently, former prime minister Stephen Harper, 2006– 15, stifled journalists from the beginning of his first mandate. He reduced media access after his swearing in, cutting hallway scrums and official press conferences. Conservative MPs were heavily scripted, shifting the meat of scrums and press conferences from policy briefings to promotional material. And staffers encroached
on the reporters’ physical access, removing their seats at important news conferences. Harper also indirectly restricted access to information by ending important sources such as the long-form census, an experimental lakes project, and the long-gun registry. In February 2018, the Information Commissioner of Canada published a report detailing her investigation into a complaint by Calvin Sandborn, legal director of the Environmental Law Centre, about policies set out by the Harper government that prohibited government scientists from sharing information with the media and the public. The investigation, led by former information commissioner Suzanne Legault, found that six government departments and agencies under Harper violated the government’s communications policy, as well as “formal commitments to foster and promote Open Government” by preventing scientists from “responding to the information needs of the public.” Harper also buried important changes to government in massive omnibus bills, ushering them through with little debate or supporting evidence. This era of journalists, not used to this level of animosity, fought back. Three months after Harper’s election, they met with communications director Sandra Buckler and aired their issues with Harper’s controlling ways. The full transcript of which they made public three days later. Still, the battle between the Harper government and the press raged on. Other approaches used by journalists included aggressively mining public documents, a staple of investigative journalism. With the government itself providing little access, reporters such as Mike Blanchfield and Jim Bronskill of the Canadian Press sifted through thousands of pages obtained through access to information requests. Others, such as Sun Media’s David Akin, Stephen Mahler, and Glen McGregor, began using unofficial and anonymous sources. These weren’t necessarily revolutionary methods, but they were an adaptation to an unwelcoming environment.
JOURNALISTS AND JOURNALISM ITSELF HAVE a growing image problem, a situation the press has, until recently, essentially ignored, and populist governments, in particular, have seized upon. Google Trends, for example, shows a dramatic spike in web searches across the globe for the term “fake news”, starting in November 2016—the same month Trump was elected president. Trump himself first tweeted the phrase on December 10, 2016, shortly before his inauguration, and has since claimed he invented it, which is untrue. One of his mantras, the phrase crops up frequently in Trump’s interviews, press conferences, speeches, and tweets. Search frequencies for the term have remained elevated ever since, and Canada and the United States are among the top ten countries with the highest search volumes. Alongside the rise of the term “fake news” was the quantifiable decline of public trust in journalism and the media, both globally and in North America. According to the 2017 Edelman Trust Barometer, Americans’ trust in the media declined five percent following the last U.S. presidential election. In Canada, trust in media dropped from 55 to 45 percent between 2016 and 2017. In a talk at the Ryerson
School of Journalism in January 2018, Kyle Pope, editor of the Columbia Journalism Review, blamed this decline in trust on journalists themselves. “I remember waking up the morning after Election Day last November and thinking that we had just witnessed one of the great failures of journalism,” he said. Despite other significant factors, such as Wikileaks, James Comey’s intervention, and Russian interference, Pope added that journalists had failed to understand the changing electorate and journalism had gotten “too much into its own head.” Much of the coverage surrounding the election was somewhat condescending, Pope said. Voters and readers recognized they were being talked down to, and they turned it off. Protecting the first amendment—which protects citizens and the press’ right to speak freely—is something we now need to worry about, Pope said, and new initiatives taking place across North America suggest that many industry leaders agree. An international example of journalists collaborating in the name of restoring confidence and combatting derogatory government statements is The Trust Project, developed at the Markkula Center for Applied Ethics out of Santa Clara University. In development since 2012 and launched in November 2017, The Trust Project is a relatively new initiative in journalism ethics. News organizations, including the Washington Post, Italy’s La Repubblica and Canada’s the Globe and Mail, participated in the initial launch, and have since been joined by dozens of others. In terms of Canadian media, the Toronto Star, CBC, the Canadian Press, and the Walrus have now joined the Globe. The main goal is to advance a set of “transparency standards that help [readers] easily assess the quality and reliability of journalism.” This includes a set of “trust indicators” to be displayed on collaborators’ article pages and websites. Trust indicators include information about the expertise and experience of the journalist(s) that worked on the story; how the information contained in the story was gathered; and best practices of the news organization publishing the story. Before joining the center, the Star took steps to increase trust among its readership with its own Trust Project, which launched in May 2017. Kenyon Wallace, a Star investigative reporter who has written numerous features for the initiative, confirmed the project was launched at least partly in response to attacks on journalism south of the border. “In the world of Donald Trump, who has effectively labelled things he doesn’t like as fake news, we’ve seen in some circles a decrease in trust in the media,” says Wallace. “We felt a way to combat that was to be more transparent about how we do our journalism.” Though the direct impact of these trust-building measures is difficult to gauge, there are signs the effort may be working. The 2019 Edelman Trust Barometer reported that trust in journalism among the general population has risen to 47 percent globally, up three percentage points—44 to 47—from 2017.
ACCESS TO INFORMATION HAS BEEN AN ISSUE at Queen’s Park under Ford. Like the reporters under the Harper government, Queen’s Park reporters have demonstrated a resolve to soldier on despite fractious relationships with MPPs and their SPRING 2019 | RYERSON REVIEW OF JOURNALISM 15
staffers. At the time, Smith Cross had trouble getting Lisa Thompson, Ford’s minister of education, to answer basic questions in media scrums. Throughout the first month of the Ford government’s first session, Thompson retreated from post-question period scrums and was absent for days at a time. The problems continued into the fall. “Everybody is so desperate to get some clarity from her on the sex-ed issue,” Smith Cross said in a September interview, “that other education stories might be getting missed.” More recently, Star Queen’s Park bureau reporter Kristin Rushowy says Thompson hasn’t had any issues with scrums “for some time,” but she avoids one-on-one interviews. CBC reporter Meagan Fitzpatrick has been documenting her attempts to secure a one-on-one interview with Thompson on Twitter. Despite making dozens of interview requests since August, Fitzpatrick has not yet been able to secure one. While Ontario government-media relations have seen plenty of tension lately, it’s worth examining how other provinces with newly elected governments are faring. Saskatchewan, New Brunswick, and Quebec have elected new premiers within the past one to two years, and most have avoided the tactics of Queen’s Park. Despite Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe and Ford presenting a united front on challenging the federal carbon tax, political journalists in Saskatchewan report that the Moe government has, so far, not tried to push journalists away. Global News reporter David Baxter says, “We really haven’t seen any of that negative media interaction coming out yet, which is definitely refreshing.” Alex MacPherson, a reporter for Saskatoon’s StarPhoenix, says Moe and his ministers have been accessible and has no concerns about anti-media rhetoric. “I haven’t seen anybody with a platform ratcheting up the antimedia rhetoric. Reputable outlets are still trusted here,” he says. “The premier himself, if you look at his Twitter feed, he fairly frequently shares or retweets stories from a variety of outlets.” Blaine Higgs, who assumed office as premier of New Brunswick on November 9, 2018, has also received positive reviews. CBC journalist Jacques Poitras calls the government’s level of access in scrums “an improvement” over previous governments, applauding the frequency of scrums in the first few weeks. Poitras says Higgs’s press secretary is a former CTV journalist and may have had something to do with the smooth transition: “She so far has had a role in persuading them that it is better to be available than not.” Journalists reporting on federal politics have similar qualms. Jessica Vomiero, a Global News national online journalist, says the government-media relationship with Ottawa “is as complicated as it’s ever been,” with journalists and politicians sometimes butting heads, and elected officials being reluctant to reveal too much information. She has noticed the rhetoric becoming more negative. “Politicians,” she says, “have become much quicker to call fake news…or demonize the press.” Andy Blatchford, an Ottawa-based reporter for the Canadian Press who has covered both the Harper and Trudeau governments, says current members of parliament are more available to the press. “Although that doesn’t necessarily mean there’s more information.” Quebec’s new premier, François Legault, assumed office on October 18, 2018, and, like Ford’s, his transition has been bumpy.
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Several of Legault’s ministers are newcomers to the political scene, many with a background in economics, which has made for a slow start, says Raquel Fletcher, National Assembly correspondent for Global News. “There have been challenges for the government as well as the media covering them,” says Fletcher. “They’re not aware of what we do as journalists and the access that we want. That’s been our biggest challenge.”
IN THE FACE OF STONEWALLING BY GOVERNments, many journalists have responded by doubling down. “It’s our job to find out information and to pass it on to our readers,” says Ferguson, who insists he treats the Ford government no differently than any other, despite the difficulty in accessing information. “We just have to do it in different ways…You’ve got to put out feelers more.” The Ford government has not been entirely withholding but is also not channelling its efforts into traditional routes. Increasingly, the focus has drifted from media organizations toward the publicity website Ontario News Now (ONN), which launched shortly after the provincial election. As the title indicates, ONN brands itself as a news network, despite being government–run and taxpayer–funded. Lyndsey Vanstone, who has worked as a radio and TV broadcaster, is the Ford government’s director of communications. She delivers standups in the style of a news report and broadcasts messages from Conservative ministers and MPPs as though they were real news interviews. In December 2018, Queen’s Park journalists reported that Ford would not be conducting year-end interviews, which are a tradition at the legislative assembly. Instead, the premier gave his annual review to ONN, a move that Queen’s Park Today editor Allison Smith calls a “dangerous attack on” and a “failure to work with the media.” Press gallery reporters have thought of ONN as “silly” in the past, says Smith, but increasingly it has become a cause for concern. “There are times that Queen’s Park Today has had to rely on ONN to figure out something,” she says, “because it’s the only way that the government is passing on some of this information.” Former United States president Barack Obama, 2009-17, also had an obstructive relationship with the press. In October 2013, the Committee to Protect Journalists published a report titled “The Obama Administration and the Press” that wrote the administration was undergoing “aggressive prosecution of leakers of classified information and broad electronic surveillance programs that deter government sources from speaking to journalists.” Likewise, a 2017 review of Obama’s time in office published by the San Diego Union-Tribune editorial board referred to his administration as “the least transparent and the most antagonistic toward the media since the Nixon administration.” Trump, of course, has also been selective. His administration banned CNN reporter Kaitlan Collins from a press event in July and, more recently, attempted to suspend the press credentials of Jim Acosta, also of CNN. To compound this capriciousness, journalists face what Daniel Dale, the Star’s Washington correspondent, calls “the avalanche
problem,” or a sudden influx of content to cover. Since Trump’s inauguration, Dale has been fact checking the president’s dubious claims. As of writing, the number of falsehoods has climbed to over 4,500. Some of these false claims are easy to categorize as either trivial or important, says Dale, but many fall into a “grey zone” where it’s difficult to predict the impact of letting them stand uncorrected. One solution, Dale says, is to fact check everything. This commitment to “aggressively confronting the dishonesty” is crucial to keep the public abreast of the government’s conduct. “People are so confused,” Dale says. “There’s a push from a number of outlets to try to break these things down for people as they’re flooded with news.” Dale’s fact checking has provided a strong foundation for such efforts. But the volume of work takes a toll. “If I wasn’t spending half of Saturday and all of Sunday doing fact checking, maybe I would have thought of some smart feature...some other kind of story,” Dale says. “I’m still covering all the big stuff, but what am I not thinking of because my mental energy is going to this?” Other news organizations have opted to focus on the most newsmaking topics. Pete Vernon, a reporter for the Columbia Journalism Review, says they created “Covering Trump,” a vertical that provides
with that, using journalism as a political weapon.” Fletcher says she began to tweet less and be more careful about the content of her tweets to avoid people with biases using it for their own purposes. The politicized engagement with her articles caused her to think differently about readers’ perspectives. “I started thinking: ‘If I tweet something just about the Liberals and not about all of the political parties, who’s going to use that? Who’s going to share that? What is it going to be used for?’”
IN SEPTEMBER 2017, DANIEL DALE RECEIVED a Twitter message from a Trump supporter. A couple of days prior, he had interviewed Bruce Brown, a man with diabetes from rural Pennsylvania, about a Trump-backed healthcare plan that would result in major cuts to Medicaid. Brown loved nearly everything about Trump, and believed Hillary Clinton should be “shot or put in prison.” Dale, who used Brown’s comments to lead an in-depth Star story, braced himself for the backlash. As a Canadian, his American sources tend to view him with less suspicion because he doesn’t
“Canadians are also feeling the effects of this accelerated news cycle” critique and analysis of reporting on Trump when it became clear that the president’s “relationship with the media was going to be significantly different.” A big part of this difference is the way Trump uses Twitter. “Journalists let Trump be our assignment editor,” says Vernon, although, he says there has been an improvement. Though he acknowledges journalists have been learning to adapt to Trump’s way of speaking his mind over the internet, there is no consensus on how to respond. “When he either attacks a certain journalist or the press in general, or when he spouts a falsehood, should the press speak up in defence?” During Trump’s campaign and at the beginning of his presidency, Vernon says, major news networks broadcast his rallies in ways they didn’t for other candidates, “allowing him unfettered access to the public and giving him the propensity to spout misinformation and outright lies.” One adjustment has been to quell the urge to cover the click-worthy statements Trump makes to focus on deeper issues. Vernon also suggests instant fact-checking—displaying corrections of Trump’s statements in real time during broadcasts of speeches and rallies. Canadians are also feeling the effects of this accelerated news cycle. Fletcher says the feeling of heightened intensity she had while reporting on Quebec’s provincial election was new and that engagement with her articles on social media added an unexpected layer to her reporting. “You would tweet, and then you would see people who were supporting a political party use your work…as ammunition against the other side,” she says. “I was really uncomfortable
“have a dog in this fight.” Dale believes establishing a good rapport leads to a good story. He prepared for the inevitable tirade. “Wow,” Brown’s Twitter message reads. “I kind of knew he wasn’t truthful much of the time, but not to the degree of hundreds of lies in such a short period of time. Thanks for opening my eyes.” Perhaps to be expected of the political upheavals of our time, in the end Brown changed his mind back. Dale recounted the story in a series of tweets, saying that he had unknowingly blocked Brown on Twitter for spreading false information in his replies about mass Democratic voter fraud. The disheartening thread was not all doom and gloom, though. “I still argue regularly with despondent Democrats who tell me that all Trump voters are a lost cause for facts,” Dale wrote in his final tweet. “Even just during the midterms, I met a bunch who’d turned on him for various informed reasons; they were paying attention.” That journalism could make any Trump supporter realize their president played fast and loose with the facts is just one victory over the forces in society that challenge the quality, or even necessity, of journalism at every turn. Even when it seems like we’re taking one step forward and two steps back, this is why it’s so important to keep pushing. Journalists all over the continent are working on their own versions of Dale’s fact-checking crusade. Whether it’s making a public commitment to trust and transparency, taking a more critical approach to tweeting, or re-evaluating the content of their reporting, journalists have begun to lay out a framework to improve its public perception one small but essential step at a time. SPRING 2019 | RYERSON REVIEW OF JOURNALISM 17
JOURNALISTS VS. POLITICIANS
Journalists fight for access against the all-consuming control of the Ford government B Y AL ANNA RIZZA ILLUSTRATION BY DUSHAN MILIC
ROBERT BENZIE IS MINGLING AT A 2017
Christmas party in Toronto’s Financial District. The room at The National Club on Bay Street is crowded mostly with political types—staffers, backbenchers, municipal and provincial politicians, and some reporters like Benzie, the Toronto Star’s Queen’s Park bureau chief. The Christmas party is an annual get-together held by the provincial Conservatives. Patrick Brown is also in attendance as leader of the Ontario PC Party. Brown and Benzie had spoken earlier of Brown’s hopes and likelihood of becoming premier in the upcoming summer election. Doug Ford, who had announced his plans to take a second shot at mayor of Toronto three months prior, locks eyes with Benzie across the room. “You know, the Toronto Star needs me,” Benzie recounts Ford saying with a smile. “You’re not wrong,” Benzie replies. This quiet political period led to a turbulent time in Ontario history that saw, among other surprises, Brown’s abrupt resignation in January and the ascension of the combative Ford to the premiership. While all political parties try to shape how they’re portrayed in the media, the Ontario Conservative government is brazen in its attempts to restrain journalists. Meanwhile, antimedia sentiments from politicians—including United States President Donald Trump’s rhetoric about “the enemy of the people” and “fake news”—have spilled into Canada.
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Avoiding journalists’ questions and public scrutiny is increasingly easy. Jeffrey Dvorkin, director of the journalism program at the University of Toronto Scarborough campus, says politicians once relied on the media to get their message to the public. But now, the internet allows them to share unvetted information to the masses. And while it’s nearly impossible to avoid scrutiny, it’s becoming more feasible to drown it out. If accountability and public scrutiny fade, democracy goes down with them, but journalists are still finding ways to overcome the obstacles.
A POLITICAL DYNASTY SET IN MOTION BY DOUG Ford Sr., an MPP in the Mike Harris government, the Ford family has long faced tough scrutiny. In 2013, the Globe and Mail reported on Doug Jr.’s alleged drug dealing in high school. As Toronto’s mayor, Rob Ford became an international laughing stock. After details about a video of Rob smoking crack cocaine emerged in Gawker and the Star, Doug lashed out, claiming no other Canadian family had been “targeted” by the media like this before, and insisted the allegations were “ridiculous” and “false.” Doug then accused reporters of hiding in bushes, “harassing” and “stalking” his family. Despite his wariness of public scrutiny, Ford decided to run for a job that would mean even more media attention. Four days after Brown resigned as leader of the Ontario PC Party amid sexual misconduct allegations, Ford declared his candidacy for the leadership. He made the announcement in his mother’s basement, surrounded by his wife, daughters, and his nephew, city councillor Michael Ford. Many journalists were skeptical and found humour in the idea of another Ford in power. “Just so we’re clear here: there is no chance Doug Ford will lead the Ontario Conservatives. Suspense now is over whether he realizes this,” tweeted Maclean’s journalist Paul Wells. On a brisk Saturday last September, Jonathan Goldsbie, news editor of journalism watchdog Canadaland, and Allison Smith, publisher of daily news service Queen’s Park Today, were stuck in traffic along Highway 7 in Vaughan, Ontario. They were trying to make a right turn into Ford Fest, the highly anticipated annual celebration for supporters of the family, with attendees from all over the Greater Toronto Area. After having been at a standstill for about 10 minutes, the pair decided to record the next episode of their podcast, Wag the Doug. They talked about how the festival represented the Ford empire. But to Goldsbie, that year’s Ford Fest felt different. It was almost as if it was a knockoff version of the festivities when Rob was mayor. “The tragedy of Rob Ford is that he liked people, but doesn’t care if people liked him,” Goldsbie said. “Whereas the tragedy of Doug Ford is that
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“ Doug lashed out, claiming no other Canadian family had been ‘targeted’ by the media like this before”
he doesn’t like people, but deeply cares if he’s liked.” Rob was known for giving out his cellphone number and returning every call. He loved meeting people, whereas Doug sees it as a chore, according to Goldsbie. The Fords certainly aren’t warm towards the media, but Doug seems to take negative stories about him and his government much more personally than his younger brother did, and he pays much more attention to the news.
COLIN D’MELLO INCHES CLOSER TO THE microphone. The Queen’s Park bureau chief for CTV News is eagerly waiting in line behind his press gallery colleagues. They all have questions for Lisa MacLeod, Ontario’s Minister of Children, Community, and Social Services, who has just announced social assistance reform. The July news conference is in the Ontario Room in the Macdonald Block Complex, across the street from the main legislative building where previous governments faced reporters in the media studio. “Last question,” D’Mello recalls Simon Jefferies, Premier Ford’s director of media relations, telling the reporters. “Simon, come on. I’m standing here in line,” pleads D’Mello. At the back of the room, dozens of political staffers stare at MacLeod, waiting for her to finish speaking. The group, mostly in their twenties, wears business casual and stands in front of a backdrop of paintings of sunsets and trees. As D’Mello steps forward, about to ask his question, Jefferies turns the microphone away and the staffers begin clapping. D’Mello opens his mouth to yell his question, but stops as the thunderous applause behind him drowns out his voice. He feels his frustration boil over. “Please stop clapping. This is a professional environment. Stop it,” he barks. The clapping ceases and he storms out of the room. After only three months on the job, D’Mello knows it’s uncommon for reporters to line up to ask questions and for staffers to clap when news conferences are over. But the Conservatives have employed such tactics to control journalists since Ford’s election campaign. Ford was consistently unavailable and doesn’t release his daily itinerary, breaking practice from previous governments. Ford rarely does sit-down, in-depth interviews with the journalists who regularly cover his government. However, he has made some exceptions. He participated in a one-on-one interview with CityNews reporter Cynthia Mulligan shortly after taking office. There’s also his friendly chat with Toronto Sun editor-in-chief Adrienne Batra at the Ontario Progressive Conservative Party convention in November. Ford has been called “Canada’s Trump,” mostly by international
publications, but some Canadian media are hesitant to make the comparison. Most reporters agree the businessmen-turned-politicians have a similar way of oversimplifying issues, but Trump is much more extreme about his disdain for journalists. He publicly praised a congressman for body slamming a reporter at a political rally. On the same day that staffers drowned out D’Mello’s question, a crowd at a Trump rally in Florida verbally harassed CNN’s Jim Acosta, giving him the finger and shouting, “fake news.” In November, the White House temporarily revoked Acosta’s press pass after a heated exchange between Acosta and the president at a news conference. Megan Boler, a professor at the Ontario Institute of Studies in Education at the University of Toronto who specializes in social media and social movements, says reporters often play into inflammatory comments. The words usually come from conservatives and hard-right figures such as Trump and Ford, and journalists usually rely on the news value of the statements rather than balancing the coverage with criticism and fact checking. But the Ford government isn’t the first administration to show hostility towards journalists. “Media management has been around since democracy,” says Tim Abray, a political communications consultant who has worked for all three major political parties over the past 20 years. In 2009, when Dalton McGuinty was Ontario’s Liberal premier, he had a five-foot distance rule for scrums. During Stephen Harper’s tenure as prime minister, from 2006 to 2015, journalists had to write their names on a list before news conferences to ask questions and wait in roped-off areas during weekly caucus meetings, according to reports from the Star. At public town halls, attendees were screened beforehand. While touring Vimy Ridge in 2007, Harper glanced at two TV photographers and said, “In those days, the enemy had guns,” according to the Star. While Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s town halls are much less scripted than Harper’s were, Trudeau is exceptionally strategic with his social media presence, staging publicity stunts like photobombing a beach wedding in British Columbia, posing shirtless with hikers in Quebec, and jogging past high school students going to prom. Governments have also contrived strategies to get their messages to the public without having to go through reporters. Some have even pretended to be part of the news media. In 2007, the Ontario Liberal government introduced Liberal TV. Former reporter and McGuinty aide Ben Chin hosted news hits and regularly made fun of John Tory, provincial Conservative leader at the time. In the early 1990s, Bob Rae’s NDP government produced its own newspaper, the Ontario Star. The Ford government introduced Ontario News Now (ONN) in SPRING 2019 | RYERSON REVIEW OF JOURNALISM 21
July. The TV-news-style videos feature Lyndsey Vanstone, who has worked in multiple newsrooms such as Global News and CP24. Now, she reports on government announcements and doesn’t hold back on her compliments of Ford and his cabinet. She also gets ample one-on-one time with ministers. Breaking the tradition of premiers giving end-of-year interviews to several news outlets, Ford spoke only to his own government’s television crew. Dozens of opinion pieces from (real) news outlets across Canada have weighed in on whether taxpayer-funded videos are propaganda. Like Liberal TV and the Ontario Star, Ontario News Now allows the government to get its message directly to the public. Rae admits the Ontario Star was an attempt to communicate with voters, but claims it was not at all like ONN. When he became involved in politics in the 1970s, he says, there was a much greater responsibility to participate in scrums every day and take criticism. Now, governments try to make rules about how and when they will be criticized. In March 2019, Ford acknowledged bypassing the media and delivering his message over social media and using ONN. The Canadian Press reported that Ford told a conference of conservative thinkers, strategists, and politicians that journalists are “losing the battle” to inform people about the news, and accused the media of “spin.” “I get along with them one-on-one, I really do,” Ford says. “I like them, but it’s like the cheese slipped off the cracker with these guys and they just went far-left.”
THE ONN VIDEOS WERE BEING PRODUCED AS reporters struggled to get more than a handful of questions answered from ministers following question period. While scrums can get intense with any government, some reporters covering the PCs didn’t want to ask about anything other than the most pressing news, fearing it would be a wasted question. Following the announcement of changes to the sex education curriculum, scrums with Education Minister Lisa Thompson became particularly tense and wouldn’t last more than a few short minutes. In July, the government announced it would repeal the updated sex-ed curriculum. A month later, it released a new lesson plan, stirring confusion about what teachers could and could not tell their students. But Thompson stuck to her talking points, refusing to go into detail about the proposed changes. CityNews’ Mulligan repeatedly asked which parts of the curriculum would be repealed, and Thompson kept providing vague answers. “We will be rolling back our sex-ed focus,” she said. “What we will be looking at is the developing sexual relations...part of the curriculum.” The resulting coverage was heavy on reactions from students and
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educators, but light on what the government actually planned to do, which took away from public discourse. Other news, such as the province cancelling a program that would have increased Indigenous awareness and history in the curriculum, received less attention and was quickly forgotten. Standing on the green carpet in the main legislative building, Mulligan’s voice echoes as she says, “We’re playing a little bit of cat and mouse with the education minister.” It’s a “challenge” figuring out where Thompson could be, since the legislature connects to the premier’s office by a long hallway, giving the politicians an easy escape from reporters. Meagan Fitzpatrick has also had trouble getting clear answers from Thompson. The CBC reporter repeatedly asked for an interview with the minister in August and was either told Thompson was “unavailable” or never got a response from the minister’s staff. While the provincial Conservatives have been dodgy with journalists, the government was particularly evasive with the public broadcaster. On November 10, CBC assignment producer Kari Vierimaa sent an email to Thompson’s staff requesting comment from the ministry on potential funding cuts. “Let’s ignore,” responded Laryssa Waler, spokesperson for Thompson, accidentally including Vierimaa in the email. “Unless there’s a brilliant statement in the works,” she wrote. Vierimaa then posted a screenshot of the email on Twitter. About an hour later, he tweeted that Waler had apologized. CBC’s Mike Crawley travelled to Washington in September to cover Ford’s talks on free trade between Canada and the United States. The premier’s staff granted other news outlets brief interviews with the premier, but not CBC, according to Crawley. He was furious and demanded to know why he wouldn’t get a chance to speak to Ford after he had travelled to Washington from Toronto. Crawley declines to go into the details of the conversation with Ford’s staff, but says, “Let’s just put it this way: I was not satisfied with the answers I got.”
ON THE EVENING OF NOVEMBER 4, BENZIE received a call from a trusted source who said Ford was planning a major political move. Benzie tweeted, “BREAKING: Rookie Premier Doug Ford will shuffle his cabinet early tomorrow just 129 days after being sworn in, the @TorontoStar has learned.” The Star published a story, and the next day the cabinet shifted exactly the way Benzie’s source had said it would. Ford had a closed-door meeting for the swearing-in of the new cabinet ministers. This followed the resignation of MPP Jim Wilson.
“ Reporters amped up their fact checking in January when Ford claimed a carbon tax would cause a recession”
Jefferies, Ford’s director of media, said in a statement to the press that the departure was regarding addiction issues, according to The Canadian Press. But Benzie and other reporters covering Queen’s Park have good sources, and soon enough the full story emerged that Wilson’s resignation was actually in light of sexual misconduct allegations, which Ford confirmed days later. While governments are becoming more strategic with how they handle reporters, journalists are still doing their best to cover what matters. During the election, the Conservatives didn’t provide a media bus, which would have allowed reporters to cover the campaign and write stories while on the way to the next stop. Some reporters—from newsrooms that could afford it—rented cars. Star reporter Rob Ferguson’s rental was a Dodge Journey, which he called the “Dodge Journo.” When Kristin Rushowy can’t get her questions answered by legislators, she finds another way to get the story. When the Star’s former education reporter needed to piece together an article on the sexed rollback, she sought comment from stakeholders such as school boards and advocates. And reporters amped up their fact checking in January when Ford claimed a carbon tax would cause a recession. Various news outlets, such as Global News, interviewed multiple economists who disputed the premier’s claims. While the press gallery might be able to handle news coverage amid shrinking resources, journalism ultimately breaks down when not as much time can be spent fact checking and digging for more details. And that threatens democracy. Queen’s Park journalists continue trying to maintain a positive relationship with the politicians they hold accountable, but after nearly a year of the Conservative government, the hostility towards them isn’t letting up. On December 4, the press gallery gathers behind a green stanchion waiting for Ford to emerge from his office. The premier has been facing criticisms for the controversial appointment of his longtime friend, Ron Taverner, as the new commissioner of the Ontario Provincial Police. “I don’t have a statement. I’m just coming out here—you’re all just asking questions,” Ford says at the start of the scrum, a Christmas tree glistening behind him. Yelling over the other reporters, Marieke Walsh of iPolitics asks if Ford signed off on Taverner’s appointment. When she sneaks in a follow-up question, asking why he didn’t recuse himself from the appointment because of his relationship with Taverner, the premier chuckles. He ends the press conference by declaring that media are now the “official opposition.” “Good luck over the next three and a half years. I look forward to working with the media party,” Ford says. He opens the door to his office, leaving the reporters shouting questions after him. SPRING 2019 | RYERSON REVIEW OF JOURNALISM 23
All you need to know about Adrienne Batra: army veteran, former press secretary to Rob Ford and current chief of Canada’s primary tabloid B Y SAR AH KRICHEL ILLUSTRATION BY ANTONY HARE
ETTING THROUGH THE STREETS of Toronto in a tin car is something Adrienne Batra happily avoids. But give her a bigger challenge, say behind the wheel of a military tank, and you’ll see she’s ready to roll. Batra, seated on a spacious white sofa chair, grasps a microphone and eases into question time with Ontario Premier Doug Ford. The Toronto Sun editor-in-chief (EIC) has on a black leather jacket and black stilettos complemented with a black smokey eye—her favourite makeup look. Behind them is a massive royal blue backdrop tiled with the Ontario Progressive Conservative (PC) Party’s logo, at the Toronto Congress Centre on a November evening. “Many of you know that I have a little bit of a history with the Ford family, having served as Mayor Rob Ford’s director of communications and press secretary—God rest his soul. I have had a”—she pauses for a moment—“unique perspective and relationship with the Ford family for many years. So it’s my honour, Premier Ford, to be here with you tonight.” What follows is a soft, 24-minute Q&A with the premier. Then Batra says: “I’ve put you on the spot. You’ve answered some tough questions—some tough-ish questions. Is there anything you want to ask me?” Ford’s smile grows large.
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“And [I] learned how to drive a tank, which is pretty badass”
“Oh boy, that’s a good one. Wow,” he says, excited by the role reversal. He licks his lips and asks: “Do you think the media’s biased?” Batra laughs along with the crowd. “I can’t plead the fifth in Canada,” she says. “It’s not a thing.” Batra doesn’t delve into the complex issue of bias. Instead, she agrees with Ford, helping solidify the point he’s trying to make; that the mainstream media is against him. She makes a damning general statement about the news media: “I will say this, Mr. Premier: I think every media outlet in this country has a bias, and if they tell you otherwise, that’s fake news.”
atra moves from her role behind-the-scenes of the Sun newsroom to onstage, in front of the camera. She shows the Batra and Sun brands through a number of appearances. On Thursdays, for example, her day starts at 7 a.m. at the Corus Quay building on the Toronto waterfront to speaks on two broadcast segments; one on Global News; a second for Global News Radio 640 Toronto. She jokes that by 9 a.m., she’s accomplished more than most people do their entire day. In the Sun newsroom, she’s a fan of digital videos for online analysis—she tries to host interviews where she presses political issues with Sun guests about twice a week. We have to constantly stay relevant, she says.
hen Irene Gentle became editor-in-chief of the Toronto Star in June 2018, 17 other leaders in Canadian media, all women, took note. Collectively, they sent her a congratulatory letter. “Welcome, from all of us,” the note read. The list included names like Toronto Life’s Sarah Fulford and the Walrus’ Jessica Johnson. The signatories were listed alphabetically, and at the top of the list was ‘Adrienne @ Toronto Sun.’ Batra’s career trajectory differs from Gentle’s. Batra didn’t have a storied rise in the world of journalism—she found her way into the newsroom through the world of political advocacy and managing the press. Being a woman of colour, she says, had no influence on her getting the job. “I didn’t ask for my seat at the table,” she says. “I just took it.”
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orn in 1973 to Harbir and Deepi Batra in the Prairies, Adrienne is the youngest of four children. Harbir and Deepi arrived in Saskatchewan in 1967 from India. They rooted themselves in Maple Creek, Sask., a small town between Regina and Calgary, Alb. The Batras were among the only brown families around, she recalls from her childhood. The children responded to their parents’ Punjabi in English, Batra recalls, but other than those distinctions, Batra says her family wasn’t very different from the white families in her neighbourhood. The Batras celebrated Christmas and played organized sports. It was, in Batra’s words, “very typical. Typical Canadian upbringing.” In 1991, when she was 18 years old, Batra enlisted in the Canadian Armed Forces, along with two of her high school friends. Batra eventually rose through the ranks and became a lieutenant and she was accepted into the Officer Training Program in Ontario. Batra learned many new skills, including developing a sense of discipline. “There’s people from all sorts of backgrounds and all parts of the country, and you come together to do one thing. It’s a great unifier.” She calls herself a libertarian—unsurprising, given her appreciation for philosopher and novelist Ayn Rand, and former British prime minister and “Iron Lady,” Margaret Thatcher. At the University of Saskatchewan, where she studied political science, Batra was elected vice president of academics at the University of Saskatchewan’s Student Union (USSU) in March 1996. She campaigned on the promise of being “The Strong Choice,” according to the university’s student newspaper, the Sheaf. “…I have learned what it takes to be a successful leader and team player. These elements are important if students want the best person for this job and I provide these elements.” Batra was the subject of a profile in the newspaper by Jessica Waiser soon after titled: “From Lieutenant to VP Academic: Adrienne Batra,” it carried specifics about Batra’s political platform. For instance, among Batra’s chief concerns were the development of a consumer guide, which would help students choose the professor in whose courses they wanted to enroll. About $33,000 of money had been set aside, according to the Sheaf. She also wanted to organize “Teaching Excellence Awards” and a faculty code of conduct. “Students generally come into my office with a problem,” she
“Being a woman of colour, she says, had no influence on her getting the job”
told the paper. “My job is different every day, and I like the variety. It’s great to be able to help out students when I can and act as an advocate for them.” But on October 17, 1996, a couple of months into the role, the Sheaf reported a “bombshell.” Batra was resigning, effective immediately. There was a “minute amount of detail” regarding the resignation, according to the article. The then-USSU president, Cory Exner, explained to the Sheaf: “I think it’s going to be good for her and good for us in the end. She’s my friend and I respect her decision.” When the Sheaf asked Exner to expand on the details of her resignation, he said: “just personal and personal is personal.” At the time Batra was considering a career in international law or the foreign service; the United Nations was an attractive option. In an interview with the Sheaf, she also considered the possibility of returning to the military. “The people I’ve met and the things I’ve learned in the military, I would never ever find anywhere else in my life,” she says. She still feels the same way about her Armed Forces experience. From it, she developed her appreciation for Canada. Plus, “I got to learn how to shoot guns,” she says, proudly. “And learned how to drive a tank, which is pretty badass.”
hen Batra was announced as the new leader of the Sun in May 2015, the brown, unabashedly conservative EIC was the first woman of colour to make it to the top of a major metropolitan newspaper in all of North America, Batra says. Yet, when the announcement of her hire was made, no collective congratulatory note, like the kind that warmed Gentle’s heart, found its way to her inbox or desk. To this day, she’s shocked no one made a bigger deal of it. “Yeah—a North American daily. A major metropolitan newspaper in North America. Yeah. Like wow. And I was in the army.” But inside the Sun’s newsroom, the reception is warm. Batra excels at her job, according to Sun old-timer Lorrie Goldstein, who has worn many hats in the newsroom. Goldstein says she is “one of the best” with a news sense that is “first-rate.” She often has tips on news stories as they’re about to break, says Goldstein, and is proud that Batra represents the Sun. He also highlights her personal side: energetic, easy to talk to, trustworthy, and a “straight-shooter.” Goldstein says her identity allows her to provide insight on things
he otherwise wouldn’t have. As a woman of colour, she defies the industry’s expectation of how she ought to act and what she ought to believe, says Andree Lau, EIC of HuffPost Canada. “It taps into long-standing stereotypes about people of colour,” Lau says. “Just because someone is an immigrant to Canada or comes from an immigrant background does not automatically make them Liberal supporters or make them lowercase liberal. Adrienne is someone who is smashing all of those things. And whether you agree or disagree with her, she’s a representative of how people should stop thinking that journalists of colour are monoliths or even that Canadians of colour are monoliths.” Freelance journalist Davide Mastracci says based on what he perceives as Batra’s political views, he was skeptical she would alter the Sun’s right-wing slant. This gets into the weeds of diversity hiring, he says. “A lot of what diversity representation has meant recently is just a liberal buzzword that everyone likes to say,” says Mastracci. “It’s just getting people in the papers that look different. There’s not really any emphasis on people that necessarily think differently, or people that will take things in a different direction.” Batra strays from the pack, making her a common guest panelist on shows like CP24. She checks certain boxes—newsroom diversity, women in journalism. and leadership positions—but how do those factors filter into how she runs her team?
n the morning of Jan. 17, Batra is in James Wallace’s office (at that time he was the Sun’s editorial director). The longtime Sun editorial cartoonist Andy Donato strolls in to pitch the next day’s cartoon. Karen Wang, the then-Liberal candidate for the Burnaby South by-election, is in the middle of a race controversy. Up against federal NDP leader Jagmeet Singh, she made a callout to potential Chinese-Canadian voters on WeChat, a social media platform. Its translation into English revealed Wang was asking that constituency vote in her favour and against the Indian-Canadian Singh. The Sun’s response was to call Wang a racist: Brian Lilley in his “LILLEY UNLEASHED” comment video for the Sun said as much. “Message received, loud and clear,” Lilley exclaims in his video. “‘Vote for me, I’m Chinese! Don’t vote for that brown guy over SPRING 2019 | RYERSON REVIEW OF JOURNALISM 27
“I think every media outlet in this country has a bias, and if they tell you otherwise, that’s fake news” there—he’s Indian.’ There’s no other way to interpret these comments other than they’re racist.” Wang tried to explain herself after she withdrew from the race. “This is not me at all. I am not a racist,” she said. Donato used the episode to pitch his cartoon concept: “Wang-ton soup.” Batra pauses to consider, then axes it before greenlighting his back-up idea: “The Race Card.” In the final published product, an Asian woman—presumably Wang—appears clutching a sword, both right side up and upside down, as on a classic playing card. She’s smiling, her eyes drawn out as singular lines. “We like to have a little fun,” Batra says before turning to Wallace. They exchange a look, and as if on cue, let out synchronized guffaws. The Sun appeared on Toronto’s streets two months after the Toronto Telegram ceased publication in 1971. Toronto-based historian and researcher Jamie Bradburn says the Tely had the conservative rhetoric for the city with an editorial page comparable to today’s Twitter. With the Globe and Mail serving the “more educated, conservative middle class,” and the Toronto Star serving as more centre-left, those who hungered for the Telegram’s emotional, vitriolic content were left without their daily paper when it shuttered. Until November 1, 1971, the first print day, when Doug Creighton, Peter Worthington, and Don Hunt started a new city paper. On the first day of its publication, the brand new Sun sold 75,000 papers; much more than the anticipated 50,000, according to Jean Sonmor’s The Little Paper That Grew. A year later, Ugandan dictator Idi Amin would banish Asians from his country. NPR’s Terry Gross interviewed Indian-born American author Bharati Mukherjee on her show Fresh Air. The writer, whose spouse was Canadian, talked about her experience living in Canada, specifically Toronto at that time. Then-prime minister Pierre Elliott Trudeau took in many Indian refugees from Uganda. The result was “a sudden, really unanticipated backlash against brown immigrants,” Mukherjee recalled. “It meant that anyone with a brown face in cities like Toronto, Vancouver was fair game for physical harassment as well as verbal harassment on the street,” Mukherjee told Gross. “And so, you know, there were incidents every day. And I was a victim of many such incidents of not being served in stores or being roughed up by teenagers in blue jean overalls in subway—on subway platforms or being, you know, thrown out of lobbies of fancy hotels if my white
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husband wasn’t near me or being given secondary examination in airports or—racial profiling.” In 1985, an analysis of the Sun by Effie Ginzberg called “Power Without Responsibility: The Press We Don’t Deserve,” looked at how the publication influenced the public’s view of communities and issues. It also presented questions such as “Does the Toronto Sun present a negative, stereotypic representation of ethnic and racial minorities?” and “Do the writers in the Toronto Sun try to rationalize, deny, or in any other ways, justify their prejudices?” The analysis delved into how the Sun portrayed certain ethnic groups, such as Indo-Pakistani people being “barbaric”, Arabs as “savages”, Black people as uneducated “pimps,” and “Native Canadians” as “drunks.” Today, the Sun’s columns criticize Canada’s approach to immigration and taking in asylum seekers.“The Toronto Sun does often seem like a newspaper that is no longer not just subject to checks and balances, but defiantly resists the constraints,” says Canadaland’s news editor Jonathan Goldsbie. “The Sun seems like a paper that sort of has shaken itself loose from the ideas that it could, or should be, accountable to anyone—including sometimes facts or reality.”
ow does a second-generation Indian-Canadian editor address that history? Not well enough, if you ask Ishmael N. Daro, digital director at Democracy Now! who expressed his concerns about the Sun’s coverage in an October 2018 opinion piece published in J-Source. The Sun, he bemoaned, had always been “a populist right-wing tabloid,” and its bevy of columnists—pointing out Sue-Ann Levy, Anthony Furey, and Tarek Fatah as examples— are applying the same-old approach on immigration and Islam. The paper, he alleged, was home to serious errors in opinion writing— factual mistakes—like a column by Candice Malcolm that stated that an asylum seeker received a voter registration card from Elections Canada when they were not eligible to vote. The writer had mixed up voter registration and voter information cards. The Sun corrected the information in a separate column. But beyond pointing out obvious and problematic errors, Daro appealed to Canadian media to break its silence on the issue and act. “It means demanding Sun figures answer for their role in spreading xenophobic and anti-Muslim hysteria, rather than responding with a shrug of the shoulders. And it means a careful consideration by
“I don’t answer to the mob on Twitter. Simple”
the rest of Canadian media about why these same figures, including Sun editor Adrienne Batra, continue to be invited to TV and radio panels and other spaces that carry the implicit approval of the wider industry.”
atra honed her interest in politics when she was the Manitoba director of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation, a non-profit organization founded in Saskatchewan but headquartered in Ottawa. The organization’s beliefs closely match those of the Sun: lowering taxes and having less government. In her role as comment editor at the Sun, she penned a piece in 2013 on a CTF campaign in Ontario, which involved its chapter director, which was Malcolm at the time, travelling with a debt clock to highlight the province’s “financial trouble.” When she reflects on her place in journalism, she says she honed her communications skills during her time at the CTF. “The beauty of the CTF is that you kind of poke your finger in the eye of every government,” says Batra. “Doesn’t matter if they’re left, right, or centre.” It’s where “I really learned how to, you know, craft a message and be able to articulate something in sort of a sound bite sort of way that is memorable.” While she was at CTF, Batra met Sara MacIntyre, who was the organization’s British Columbia lead. Between 2004 and 2007 they collaborated as colleagues. The two wrote opinion pieces on how taxpayer dollars were being spent under the administration of NDP’s Provincial Premier Gary Doer. Getting her point across on paper, on radio, and on television, Batra got a peek into journalism as an “opinion maker.” But in that time, she also solidified her relationship with MacIntyre, who remains a close friend to both Batra and her parents. This past winter, for instance, MacIntyre and her boyfriend visited Batra’s parents, Harbir and Deepi, in Saskatoon for a Christmas meal. MacIntyre makes sure to see the Batras every time she goes to Saskatoon and during their annual visits to Toronto. To MacIntyre, the Batras are like family, substitutes for her deceased parents. And Batra’s son, nine-year-old Aidan, calls MacIntyre “Masi,” which means mother’s sister in Punjabi. Batra is still the first person to call MacIntyre on an anniver-
sary. After she lost her parents, Batra took extra care. Whenever MacIntyre replied saying she was spending the holidays by herself, Batra would say: “Nope, you’re coming to the cottage.”
n her book, Crazy Town, Robyn Doolittle describes the current Sun editor as “the charismatic Adrienne Batra.” She was refer‑ ring to Batra in 2009 when then-mayoral candidate Rob Ford’s team brought her on as its new head of communications. By this point, the team had learned how to work with “the brothers’ unconventional behaviour,” Doolittle writes. “It was starting to seem like the kinks had been smoothed out, like they were a real, functioning, normal political campaign.” A number of non-journalism jobs have prepared her well for the role of the Sun’s EIC. And what better place to handle high-pressure situations than in a role where she had to respond to scandals involving her boss? When Ford was elected mayor on October 25, 2010 with 383,501 votes—47 percent of the total cast—Batra became his press secretary. The honeymoon period was short-lived. The same year, Ford was caught on tape offering to buy OxyContin, a highly addictive painkiller for Dieter DoneitHenderson—an HIV-positive, married gay man whom Ford had offended after he stated in 2006: “If you are not doing needles and you are not gay, you wouldn’t get AIDS, probably.” DoneitHenderson released the audio and the Star got a hold of it. Batra didn’t think the fire could be put out. “Oh, you can’t spin that,” she said at the time. One person she could turn to during this time was her old CTF friend, MacIntyre. She had gone on to be a press secretary for former Canadian prime minister Stephen Harper. They traded war stories. MacIntyre faced complaints from the media about Harper being inaccessible and unapproachable, while Batra was dealing with a different can of worms. “She went through the municipal election with Rob, and I went through the federal election in 2011 with Harper, and unless you’ve gone through an election, you don’t understand how that kind of prolonged adversity bonds you to somebody else.” Batra also had to deal with reports from Star reporters Robert Cribb and Kristin Rushowy, which said that Ford had been asked SPRING 2019 | RYERSON REVIEW OF JOURNALISM 29
“And whether you agree or disagree with her, she’s a representative of how people should stop thinking that journalists of colour are monoliths or even that Canadians of colour are monoliths” to leave the high school football team he had been coaching after an alleged physical confrontation back in 2001 between Coach Ford and a player that Ford thought was underperforming. “It’s outrageous, it’s slanderous and patently incorrect,” Batra told the National Post. Then-Sun EIC Wallace asked Batra to take on the role as comment editor in 2011. “At one point, do you want to chat about making a move if you’re planning on leaving city hall?” Batra recalls Wallace asking her. A few weeks after that conversation, she got the job. She juggled her comment editor role with being a Sun News Network host before slipping into the EIC’s chair in 2015. While it’s difficult to avoid disputes while in a position of power, Batra sees herself as equipped to handle high-pressure situations. By the time a video of Ford appearing to smoke crack cocaine went viral in 2014, Batra was observing the scandal from the Sun. It was “heartbreaking,” she says. “You’re watching your friends get marched out of city hall with a camera in their face. Just awful. And you know we were part of something that accomplished a lot in a very short period of time,” she says. “Then of course, Rob got sick, and it was sad, sad to watch. And people treated him so badly. Look—he was a flawed man, there’s no skirting around that. But he always had the best intentions in mind, he just, you know, had personal problems.” Her attachment to the Fords extends to Rob’s brother. With Doug as the Ontario premier, who courts controversy on account of his legislative choices—Batra slips into her role as advocate: the Sun openly endorses the Progressive Conservative Party of Ontario. Is the publication she runs merely an advocacy arm of the Conservative Party? Batra doesn’t think that’s a fair estimation of what the Sun does. “It’s not the type of journalism we do,” she says. “Every newsroom has an editorial position. We’re not dissimilar to anybody else.” While newspapers and news media have historically endorsed political parties just before an election, Goldsbie believes the Sun has become “an extension of the Ford government.” When Goldsbie got started at the media criticism outlet, he was interested in looking at Rebel Media, the far-right online news commentary site. The Rebel isn’t journalism, but Goldsbie points out it mimics the presentation of a news outlet, when, in fact, it is an advocacy organization.
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In April 2018, Goldsbie broke a story which appeared to outline the Sun’s editorial strategies for that summer’s provincial election. “There’s nothing surprising about the fact the Toronto Sun might take an anti-Liberal line heading in to the June 7 Ontario election. What’s somewhat more remarkable, however, is that they’d feel the need to set that down on paper,” Goldsdbie writes. The piece listed top stories to be published such as one regarding health care with “complaints from doctors the Liberals are worse than Mike Harris,” a hydro story on how “we revisit the government’s failed green energy plan,” and more.
atra handles conflict privately, paying little heed to those like Jesse Brown and some “left-wing” publications—who push Batra for a public response. For instance when Sun columnist Sue-Ann Levy wrote a piece titled: “East-end hotel painted as refugee camp,” there was backlash from critics on Levy’s reporting and the process of how she verified facts. “Levy wrote about TripAdvisor and Expedia reviews on a hotel that she says housed “400 refugees from Africa.” One review, screenshot and featured in the column, said, “There are uncivilized refugees everywhere; in the lobby, in the pool and it looks like they are also in the ladies room at lobby level. It’s like this is a 9/11 training camp.” Levy stayed on the story. She penned a second piece on October 3: “‘Irregular’ migrants continue to flock to Toronto.” More refugees were said to arrive in Toronto from Nigeria. Most notably, the column contained a report of goats being slaughtered by the “illegals” in the hotel bathrooms. As it turned out, that was wrong. The National NewsMedia Council (NNC) got involved after it received several complaints about unethical journalism. John Fraser, the council’s executive chair says, “Whether we’re left, right, white, Black, Indigenous— there were no goats killed in that hotel.” The NNC received seven complaints regarding the Sun’s October 3 column. As part of its mission to promote ethical journalism within the news industry, the council published a “decision.” The council said “basic journalistic standards of seeking accuracy were noticeably lacking in the article that was the subject of complaint.” The ruling was published on December 11, and the Sun published it in print on March 2 along with a correction on the column stating
“I didn’t ask for my seat at the table,” she says. “I just took it”
that the piece referenced a hotel review that “wrongly claimed goats were being slaughtered in public bathrooms at the hotel.” Levy published a third column in the saga, “Refugee outrage spent on wrong target,” citing the “progressive shills” misinterpreting her journalism. Her columns were supposed to be about “the abandonment of refugees we’ve accepted into our country”—not racist or anti-Islamic. She acknowledges the error regarding the goats, but justifies the two columns. In a March 18 episode of Canadaland, host Jesse Brown says that an EIC “is where the buck stops”—such as Batra, who said “no thanks” to being on the podcast, according to Brown when he asked her for an interview. In the episode on the issue, NNC’s Pat Perkel, executive director and complaints coordinator, and Fraser discuss how they fit into the picture. The job of the NNC isn’t to prosecute publications for rhetoric or unpopular opinions, but rather to address journalistic standards, ensure that opinions are based on fact and correct mistakes, according to Fraser. Perkel says the NNC doesn’t police opinions — it ensures they are based on facts. Batra never responded to public calls for comment on the Levy Columns. Now, she says she wasn’t the handling editor on the story and won’t say who was. She says she can’t remember where she was when she heard about it. Moreover, it feels like “a lifetime ago.” When she did hear about it, she says she immediately went into “fix-it” mode. “These are things that I don’t really talk about. But I can tell you it was a stressful time, and we worked very diligently to correct the situation in as timely a manner as we possibly could.” Batra said she asked questions like “How did this happen?” then worked to ensure it doesn’t happen again. “Let’s be careful. Let’s make sure that we don’t have a situation where we exacerbate it any further.” The fix Batra mentions involved “discussions” with her thenboss, Wallace, and a talk with Levy. He declined to confirm whether those discussions happened. And that was that. Batra chalked it up to: “Mistakes happen. And it won’t be the last time.” Outside the Sun, media critics took to Batra’s and Levy’s Twitter handles to pursue their complaints. But Batra didn’t let it get to her. “I don’t answer to the mob on Twitter. Simple.”
uffPost Canada has a drastically different approach to reporting on identity politics. Born in Vancouver, B.C. to parents from Hong Kong, EIC Lau says normalizing diversity through the media comes from writing about diverse realities in a multicultural society. “Having people of colour in charge certainly puts a different lens on editorial decisions, business decisions,” says Lau. “But what’s notable and remarkable about that is that Canada hasn’t had a lot of that.” Sun columnist Tarek Fatah says that Batra’s aware of more communities than your average white editor may be. “I do think that the awareness of issues has a huge role in what gets covered. She understands Canada as a Saskatchewan-born person of colour. Much better than anyone could hope to.” And that extends to her Saskatchewan roots. In April 2018, a bus that was carrying the Humboldt Broncos hockey team crashed in rural Saskatchewan. The collision resulted in 16 dead and 13 injured. Batra says the story affected her greatly, leading her to write the column that stays with her the most. Batra wrote the Sun’s op-ed piece when writer and activist Nora Loreto tweeted about the “youthfulness and whiteness” of the victims of the Humboldt Broncos crash “playing a significant role” in the millions raised for a GoFundMe campaign. Batra writes: “What a sad and senseless way to draw attention to other legitimate causes. Loreto, and many others on the extreme left, apparently feel they get a pass on saying vicious and hurtful things because they claim to represent oppressed minorities...No one with a good heart is looking at this loss of life in Saskatchewan through the lens of race or gender because this loss goes beyond race, gender, and politics.” She goes on to say in towns like this, everyone knows everyone— she knows this first-hand. They celebrate and grieve together.
ack in Wallace’s office, Batra is the only woman and the only person of colour at the news meeting. The office is mono‑ tone—not unlike the rest of the Sun newsroom. A handful of content producers are huddled around Wallace as he sinks into his black leather chair. “So we have a story we’re going to break,” Batra says. Columnist (and sometimes reporter) Joe Warmington has a scoop. “Are we going to do a video on it?” a producer asks. “As long as it’s accurate!” she replies, laughing. SPRING 2019 | RYERSON REVIEW OF JOURNALISM 31
Hitting the Motherlode How one Star reporter’s drive and determination brought on a major investigation into SickKids’ Motherisk lab that blew the lid off a scandal affecting dozens of families B Y MICHAL STEIN PHOTO BY COLLEEN NICHOLSON
Rachel Mendleson hadn’t prepared a speech.
She wasn’t expecting to win an award from the Canadian Association of Journalists (CAJ) for her investigative work into the Motherisk Drug Testing Lab at Toronto’s Hospital for Sick Children (SickKids). But on May 5, 2018, at the Hyatt Regency Toronto, she received an award for outstanding investigative reporting in the Open Media category. Twenty other reporters and editors who had worked on the joint investigation by the Toronto Star and CBC were named, but hers was first on the list. She was the one who had broken the story and then followed it doggedly for four years. The CAJ win was an affirmation—as Mendleson says, a welcome contrast to “having institutions like SickKids and the government be like, ‘Nobody cares about this. Stop talking about this.’” The honour came six years after Mendleson had joined the Star. In 2000, she’d left Windsor, Ontario, to study history and English at McGill University. Then, in 2005, she enrolled in the one-year Bachelor of Journalism program at the University of King’s College. After graduating, she spent two years working in Halifax, first at the Daily News and then at Metro Halifax. It was a one-year reporting fellowship with Maclean’s that brought her to Toronto. After several years there, and a year each at Canadian Business and HuffPost, she was hired at the Star, where she landed in the city department. Despite her considerable experience, Mendleson, now 37, is hardly the hard-bitten investigative reporter of the movies. Instead, she’s the kind of person who makes you feel at ease. She speaks softly, but with a great deal of precision, explaining complicated forensic testing as casually as if she were chatting with a friend. Her style is also casual. When I ask whether
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Rachel Mendleson with her new baby
she fretted about what to wear to the CAJ awards, she gestures to the zip-up hoodie she’s wearing that day. “I literally have one blazer that I bought in the last ten years,” she says, laughing. “That is what I wore.” She’s quick to give credit to people she works with, and they are perhaps even quicker to return the compliment. One example: “She’s terrific in the sense that she understands looking at a story from 30,000 feet, and then also being on the ground,” says Michael Cooke, who was editor-in-chief of the Star when she began work on the Motherisk story. Mendleson was drawn to the paper because of its social justice mandate and its investigative emphasis. She also finds her colleagues exceptionally talented. “The reporters here are just amazing and there’s so much to be inspired by. I know that sounds kind of cheesy,” she says. “Someone will ask, ‘Can you edit? Can you read over my story that I just wrote?’ And you read it, and you’re blown away.”
Mendleson’s big story began with a lunch. She
“ Despite her considerable experience, Mendleson is hardly the hard-bitten investigative reporter of the movies, but instead the kind of person who makes you feel at ease”
was meeting a source in late October 2014 at a restaurant near the St. Lawrence Market in Toronto. They were discussing a completely different story when her source asked if Mendleson had heard about the Broomfield decision that had just been made in the Court of Appeal. She hadn’t. The case involved Tamara Broomfield, who in 2010 had been convicted of feeding her toddler son, Malique, an almost lethal dose of cocaine. Though she was sentenced to seven years in jail, Broomfield had always maintained her innocence in relation to the cocaine charges. That decision had just been overturned by the Court of Appeal on the basis that new evidence suggested the testing at the Motherisk Drug Testing Lab, run out of SickKids, might have been faulty. The lab was run by Dr. Gideon Koren, then a highly respected clinical pharmacologist and toxicologist who had founded it in 1985. Mendleson recalls being struck by the idea that the hospital might be embroiled in another debacle so soon after the scandal involving pathologist Charles Smith. “Real questions had been raised about forensic science coming out of SickKids, and another high profile but controversial scientist [was] involved in it,” she says. Smith, considered an expert in forensic child pathology, often testified in cases where children had died; testimony that had been used to convict parents or caregivers. In 2005, Dr. Barry McLellan, Ontario’s chief coroner, reviewed 45 child autopsies done by Smith in the 1990s. He took issue with Smith’s conclusions in 20 of the cases, eventually leading to Smith’s resignation from SickKids. Following the review, the Ontario government ordered a public inquiry, which was headed by Justice Stephen T. Goudge. Released in 2008, Goudge’s report found that Smith was lacking in basic knowledge about forensic pathology and made questionable ethical choices in his position. People who had been convicted in relation to one of Smith’s autopsies began to appeal their cases. On November 1, 2014, the Star published a 1,200-word story in the crime section of the paper by Mendleson and Marco Chown Oved titled: “‘Crack mom’ conviction tossed out.” The story detailed the
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doubts that were raised about the science used to convict Broomfield back in 2010, specifically that the results of the hair testing used on Malique could not have been rigorous enough to confirm that he had ingested a substantial amount of the drug, as the prosecution was arguing. An expert witness, Dr. Craig Chatterton, the deputy chief toxicologist in the office of the chief medical examiner of Alberta, testified he had concerns about the Motherisk lab’s screening technique—radioimmunoassay—to determine levels of Malique’s exposure to cocaine. These hair tests, he said, were only appropriate as a preliminary screening. A verification test should have been done. The story contained no comment from Gideon Koren. “In response to questions for this story, the Star received an email on Friday stating that Koren ‘is out of town and unfortunately cannot respond,’”
Mendleson and Oved wrote. The article ended with a couple of sentences on Koren that suggested his stature and influence: “Koren’s resumé in the court file is 147 pages long. According to the SickKids website, he has trained pediatricians from more than 40 countries and published over 1,400 peer-reviewed papers in the area of pediatric pharmacology.” Two days after the initial story about Broomfield’s successful appeal, the paper published another piece by Mendleson; the first to raise the issue of public confidence, suggesting that perhaps the Broomfield case might not be anomalous. As Toronto defense lawyer Daniel Brodsky was quoted saying, “Someone who has the means to examine what has been done in the past has to step up to the plate and satisfy the public that miscarriages of justice haven’t taken place.” Over the course of the next 28 days, the Star ran 18 more stories, 12 of which were by Mendleson. The first few stories dealt with the fallout from Broomfield’s successful appeal—that critics were calling for an investigation into the Motherisk lab. By November 6, Mendleson began to focus on SickKids’ response, or lack thereof. At this point, the hospital was releasing statements to the Star, defending the legitimacy of the Motherisk lab. Then, a story by Mendleson and Tim Alamenciak introduced a new element. “Ontario’s Ministry of Health has the power to trigger an investigation into concerns about the Motherisk laboratory at the Hospital for Sick Children, but it appears Minister Eric Hoskins will not take action,” they wrote. At this point, the Star had reported “concerns” about Motherisk and the reliability of its hair testing from Children’s Aid Societies,
and family and criminal lawyers in Toronto. On November 18, 2014, it reported on concerns from Progressive Conservative MPP Jim McDonell, the Children and Youth Services Critic. Still, Koren had not responded. While a representative from SickKids was providing statements, they reportedly declined interview requests. “There were some dark days where SickKids just was not responding [to us],” Mendleson recalls of that first month of reporting. “The Attorney General was not responding. The other ministries that had responsibility over the issue were not responding, and it was just like, I don’t know what else to do.” But as Cooke says, “It takes not just one story, it takes 27 of them—or more” to provoke a response. Irene Gentle, then the city editor at the Star and now editor-in-chief, agrees. In an email, she wrote, “It went very quickly from a story to investigation, and one of my favourite types of investigations—the kind where it unfolds in a series of fast stories rather than pulling everything together in one big drop. The frequent revelations have a real-time relentlessness to them.”
By November 26, 2014, after weeks of coverage by the
Star, Ontario Attorney General Madeleine Meilleur finally ordered an independent review of hair tests done by Motherisk between 2005 and 2015. She appointed retired court of appeal justice Susan E. Lang to lead it. “It just felt like we were asking for this concrete thing for like six weeks of stories, dozens and dozens of stories, and finally they did it. It was like, thank goodness somebody is going to look at this,” Mendleson says of Lang’s appointment. In April 2015, just a few months after the review was established, SickKids shut down Motherisk’s Drug Testing Lab. In Lang’s 344-page report, released in December 2015, she found that “hair-strand drug and alcohol testing used by the Motherisk Drug Testing Laboratory between 2005 and 2015 was inadequate and unreliable for use in child protection and criminal proceedings, and that the Laboratory did not meet internationally recognized forensic standards.” She called for a further inquiry. In response, Mendleson and Jacques Gallant’s December 17 story was headlined: “Damning review of Motherisk drug testing sparks call for second probe.” Mendleson had gone on maternity leave in October 2015, two months before Lang’s review was published. Gallant, who had been with the Star since 2013, had been assigned to take over for her while she was gone. Certain that most of the digging and investigating for the story would be done by the time she returned, Mendleson had a tough time letting go. “It was the worst. It was really hard. [Gallant] did a good job, but it was definitely hard to step away,” she says. Her resolve was further tested after SickKids issued an interim summary of an internal investigation that acknowledged there was uncertainty about Motherisk’s hair test. Mendleson had been asking for an interview with the hospital since she had begun her reporting. Finally, after the hospital’s report was released, she got an email offering her an exclusive interview with Michael Apkon, then president and CEO. But she was entering the early stages of labour. For a moment, she considered doing the interview, but her husband provided a necessary reality check. Even if she did do the interview, she couldn’t write the story. Gallant ended up meeting with Apkon. At the same time,
Mendleson was having her baby right across the street at Mount Sinai Hospital. While Mendleson was on leave, Gallant wrote 10 articles, mostly reporting on the heartbreaking stories of parents who had had their children taken away after testing done at the Motherisk lab, some of whom were suing SickKids and Motherisk. When Mendleson returned to the newsroom in October 2016, she realized there was still much to be done. She also had a new perspective. “When I first started investigating this, I didn’t have kids. I wasn’t pregnant,” she says, “but then all of a sudden, the stakes got way higher.” She recalls doing a Skype interview with a couple who had had their child taken away. She had just put her toddler to bed, and she mentioned to the couple that she may have to stop the interview to tend to him if he woke up. At the end of the interview, they commented that her son must have slept well, as she never had to go deal with him. “Oh, he was screaming at one point, but I didn’t go,” Mendleson joked. The father responded that she should be careful, lest she get a visit from Children’s Aid. Mendleson knew that her position of privilege meant she would never end up in that situation, but for her sources, it was very much a part of their reality. “Look at the tools for a successful experience at being a mom I have versus people that really just need more support,” she says. By the time she was back in October of 2016, there was another change. The review that Lang had called for was underway. Justice Judith C. Beaman had been appointed by the province to establish what she would later describe as a “Review and Resource Centre (the Motherisk Commission) to assist people whose lives had been affected by the testing. Our role was to review individual child protection cases and to provide information and referrals to counselling services and legal advice.” In the end, the commission examined over 1,200 cases. Mendleson would end up writing eight stories about the Commission’s work. “The Ontario Motherisk Commission’s twoyear effort to repair the damage to families ripped apart by flawed drug and alcohol testing has produced sweeping recommendations aimed at preventing a similar tragedy, but in only a handful of cases has it reunited parents with their lost children,” Mendleson wrote on February 26, 2018.
In the early spring of 2017, while working on a story
about how a scandal like the Charles Smith case could happen again, Mendleson called John Chipman, a producer at CBC Radio’s daily The Current. Chipman’s 2017 book, Death in the Family, had investigated what happened to the people whose lives had been ruined as a result of Smith’s faulty pathology. “We set up an interview time, and ended up really connecting over our shared interest in what was happening with the Motherisk commission, and what kind of justice there could be, or lack thereof for all these victims,” Mendleson says. They worked together on a pitch for a joint investigation into Motherisk to present to their respective editors, which Chipman also brought to producers at CBC’s investigative television program, The Fifth Estate. “At CBC, given our national audiences, it seemed like there would be an opportunity to kind of build on work that [Mendleson] had been doing,” Chipman says. Because Motherisk SPRING 2019 | RYERSON REVIEW OF JOURNALISM 35
had clients all across the country, he says they wanted “to see what the reach was beyond Ontario and to see if other provinces were as aware of the issues surrounding Motherisk as a lot of the clients in Ontario were, given the coverage that Rachel had done for the Star.” Irene Gentle credits editor Lynn McAuley for organizing and overseeing the Star’s co-production with CBC. “Journalism has a financial crisis, but an imperative to do deep and meaningful work that aims to make a difference. Sometimes you do it alone, but sometimes it is better when we can work with partners. It is good for journalism and even better for the public,” she writes. It was when Mendleson and Chipman started working together that they came across perhaps their most damning finding: a murder case in Colorado from 1993 that cast doubt on Motherisk’s testing method as viable evidence. They were sitting in Osgoode Hall, sifting through court testimony and scanning transcripts into their phones, when something caught Chipman’s attention. He called Mendleson over. When Koren had testified in Broomfield’s case about the accuracy of Motherisk’s testing results, he revealed that they had not only been accepted all over Canada, but also in a Colorado murder trial. This was the first that Mendleson or Chipman had heard anything about the Colorado case, and they were determined to find out how that evidence was used. Library searches at the Star and CBC turned up nothing. They began cold calling lawyers in Colorado and The Innocence Project, a non-profit legal organization committed to exonerating the wrongly convicted. “Everyone was lovely, but no one knew anything,” Mendleson says. With the specific case still a mystery, Mendleson went, as Chipman calls it, on a “deep Google.” A clue finally came up: a footnote in a book from the early 2000s, which mentioned hair testing being thrown out in a murder case in Colorado. “It’s the best journalism moment I think I ever had,” Mendleson says. “Just that feeling of looking, looking, looking, looking, almost compulsively. I swear I was on page 24 of Google Scholar.” The footnote finally gave them the missing piece: the case name. Mendleson then ordered a Register of Actions (ROA) from the 1993 trial. “It was all on a lark because nothing in the news stories [at that time] said anything about hair testing evidence or Motherisk,” Mendleson says. While she waited for the ROA to arrive, Mendleson came across newspaper articles about the case that named the lawyers who had represented the accused. One had died. The other, Robert Pepin, was still working as a public defender in Colorado. Mendleson contacted him. After speaking with Pepin, not only could she finally confirm that this was the case she had spent weeks looking for, but Pepin explained why she wouldn’t find mention of Motherisk or hair testing in any of the news stories or in the court transcripts. The Motherisk evidence had been deemed inadmissible in a pre-trial (or frye) hearing. When Mendleson finally did receive the ROA, she was able to order transcripts from the pre-trial hearing. As she later wrote, the hair testing evidence presented by Motherisk was blasted by the prosecutor as being “so deficient that it gave ‘legitimate researchers in this area a bad name.’ The judge who rejected Motherisk’s evidence compared the lab’s process to one in which the scientist ‘shot the arrow in the air, let it land, and then went and
painted the target around the arrow.’” The implication was clear, the case in Colorado demonstrated that experts had found Motherisk’s methods not up to standard, and so unreliable that in Colorado they were thrown out before the actual criminal trial even began. Mendleson and Chipman’s scoop was a prominent element in the October 19, 2017, Star series on Mendleson’s joint investigation with CBC. Combined, the three sections—“Separated by a hair,” “Rejected in Colorado,” and “Tarred by the test results”—were over 7,500 words. Together, the stories highlighted different facets of the faulty hair testing lab that had torn apart so many families. The series highlighted stories of families who couldn’t manage to regain custody of their children, and the heartache that continued even when they did. One mother, only
“ The case in Colorado demonstrated that experts had found Motherisk’s methods not up to standard—so unreliable that in Colorado they were thrown out before the trial even began”
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referred to as Angela, eventually regained custody of her children after proving that she did not drink alcohol—let alone abuse alcohol chronically, as the Motherisk test suggested. When her youngest daughter returned, then 13 years old, she had developed anxiety issues. The Current and The Fifth Estate both aired Motherisk episodes on October 20, 2017. The segment on The Current was mostly an interview with Chipman, during which he explained what had happened with Motherisk and how it affected families, referencing interviews he had done with people in Colorado about the 1993 case. Linda Guerriero and Lynette Fortune, producers on The Fifth Estate, had gone to Nova Scotia and British Columbia, respectively, to speak to families in those provinces who had had their children taken away because of Motherisk testing. But there was also another focus for the 45-minute episode, called, “Motherisk: Tainted Tests & Broken Families.” After almost three years of reporting, no one had been able to get in touch with Koren. As Mark Kelley, a host and reporter for the show recalls, “We asked ourselves...where in the world is Gideon Koren now?” When he found out Koren was still speaking at conferences, he was shocked. “I didn’t even believe it at first. I said, there’s no possible way that this guy is still being given ovations by crowds. And he goes to talk about what his experience has taught him.” And yet, Koren was scheduled to talk at a conference in Windsor, England, so Kelley went to try to talk to him. Kelley and his cameraperson were the only journalists present in the room while Koren was speaking. Kelley positioned himself by Koren’s laptop and coat when Koren
was returning from speaking with other delegates after the lunch break. As we see in the episode, Koren walks over to where Kelley is standing and Kelley introduces himself. At first, Koren looks quite pleased that a journalist is so keen to speak to him. “And then I said, ‘I’m Mark Kelley from The Fifth Estate.’ And then his smile faded like a sunset,” Kelley recalls. “No, I will not answer,” Koren said. Kelley pressed him further, saying that the families who were torn apart want to know what was going on in the lab. “Legal instructions. I cannot talk about that,” Koren responded, and then swiftly left the room. The encounter was broadcast in The Fifth Estate episode. Today, Koren is listed as working at Maccabitech, a research institute in Israel. According to his biography on its website, he is “a senior investigator, leading the research in clinical pharmacology/ toxicology, and actively involved in developing the clinical aspects of the Big Data analysis.” It also notes that he is teaching clinical toxicology at Tel Aviv, Hebrew, and Ben Gurion universities, and mentions his 35-year teaching career at the University of Toronto. Both SickKids and Motherisk are noticeably absent from his bio. On December 21, 2018, Mendleson reported that Physicians for Human Rights Israel had alerted the parent company of Maccabitech to Koren’s scandals back in Canada. The article also stated that as of December 5, 2018, Maccabi had appointed a committee to look into Koren. Back in Toronto, Motherisk continues to operate, but only as an information resource. There is a help line that pregnant women can call if they have questions, and the website has information like which medications are safe to consume during pregnancy. The website also includes updates on SickKids’ own review of the nowdisgraced Motherisk testing lab.
Justice Beaman’s report on the Motherisk
Commission was published in February 2018. Mendleson’s resulting story revealed that after a review of almost 1,300 cases, the Commission identified 56 families that “were ‘broken apart’ because of flawed testing at the Hospital for Sick Children’s Motherisk lab.” According to the Star’s reporting, by that point, only four families had been reunited. Mendleson also reported on some of Beaman’s recommendations, which included: Children’s Aid Societies requiring valid written consent when requesting “bodily samples;” expanding funding for legal aid in child protection cases that involve expert evidence; and federal funding for First Nations band representatives so they could participate in these child protection proceedings. Beaman’s report found that Indigenous families were disproportionately affected by Motherisk. Almost 15 percent of the cases the commission reviewed involved Indigenous people, who make up 2.8 percent of Ontario’s population. Between October 2017 and November 2018, Mendleson wrote nine more Motherisk stories. Six were about a dismissed class-action lawsuit, which is currently being appealed. She also wrote about how the commission had seemingly overlooked Indigenous communities, and continues to report on cases of people affected by Motherisk testing, including those missed by the Commission entirely, like the September 2018 story about a woman named Joyce whose conviction was overlooked during the
government’s internal review. After winning the CAJ award in 2018, Mendleson went on a seven-week leave to work on a book about the story behind the story of the Motherisk investigation. “[The reporting] should be done. It’s not done yet because the story just keeps going,” Mendleson says. “I’m working on the third part, which is the fallout of all the reporting, and the issue is that the fallout continues to develop.” Some of that fallout appeared in the Star during the week of December 17, 2018 when two stories were published. The first, published online on the 16th and in print on the 17th, reported that SickKids was ordering a systematic review of Koren’s published works. Two days earlier, on December 14, the hospital had released a statement that it would be investigating Koren’s published work, directly acknowledging the investigative work of Mendleson and Michele Henry, a fellow investigative reporter at the Star who has assisted with the investigation. “We’ve never ever seen anything like that before,” Mendleson says. “Everyone was floored that they did that.” A second story, which was published on December 21, was a more investigative, data-driven piece that looked at the ways in which Koren’s published work was problematic and the flawed systems that allowed it to go unnoticed. Mendleson wrote both articles, along with Henry, and data analyst Andrew Bailey. Four Ryerson students also helped with the investigation as part of Robert Cribb’s investigative class: Stefanie Phillips, Emerald Bensadoun, Kate Skelly and Ryerson Review of Journalism Senior Online Editor Alanna Rizza. Over the course of about a year, the team reviewed approximately 1,500 of Koren’s publications. They found problems in more than 400. Over 60 dealt with drug and alcohol hair testing. Others contained undisclosed conflicts of interest, or included lies about methodology used to test hair for drugs. Only in 18 of those cases had the journals printed a correction or clarification. Meanwhile, Mendleson was eight-and-a-half months pregnant with her second child. Her last day of work before going on maternity leave was December 21, 2018, the day the Star published the second article. This time, she wasn’t as anxious about being away. “I feel like the story is a lot more complete. I feel like it really took this long to bring these issues to light. And this was the last thing that’s been nagging at me, this academic-journal-publication thing, because I’ve been feeling like they really had to do something about this,” she says. “I think it’s a good time to step away a little bit and just kind of recalibrate.” Acclaimed journalist and author Jodi Kantor once compared investigative journalism to an archaeological dig. Mendleson paraphrases: “You’ve got a brontosaurus under there, but you can only excavate one bone at a time.” Of her own investigation, she says, “I did not know there was a brontosaurus under there. I guess I’ll keep digging, and, oh, there’s another bone. I have no idea if these are related. I don’t know if there’s more bones and there’s a brontosaurus under there.” The Ryerson Review of Journalism attempted to reach out to Gideon Koren and to SickKids to be interviewed for this story. We did not receive a response from Koren. SickKids responded with a clarifying comment but declined a formal interview. SPRING 2019 | RYERSON REVIEW OF JOURNALISM 37
With Canada’s increased relevance in the world, international publications and broadcasters are seeing us through a new lens B Y DANIEL MULLIE
In December 2018, the Guardian published a story about Toronto’s
ecology—its unusual landscape of steep hills and wetlands that are part of a complex ravine network. The article, titled, “‘There’s no major city like it’: Toronto’s unique ravine system under threat,” took readers into a world that occupies 20 percent of the city’s land, and faces challenges from urbanization and the overgrowth of invasive species. Leyland Cecco, the freelancer who wrote the story, is a Toronto native, trail runner, and a regular visitor to the ravines. “We try to be objective when we’re journalists, but we also get these stories that touch us close to the heart. And this is one of them where it was an absolute pleasure to write about something that I’ve grown to love about the city,” Cecco says. His familiarity with the landscape was clear and his descriptions of the peerless “steep, voluminous corridors of woodlands,” impassioned.
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But attentive readers must have wondered: Why was a British newspaper like the Guardian (a publication with its head office in London, United Kingdom, and the bulk of its audience over 5,000 kilometres away) investing in a 1,500-word piece on a local Canadian story? The reasoning, in Cecco’s telling, is twofold: First, the story’s attraction lay in its singularity—experts quoted on the ravines juxtapose them against other cities with defining natural features, like San Francisco’s hills, the River Thames in London, and the canals of Venice. Second, explains Cecco, an experienced foreign and domestic freelancer, there’s been a shift in editorial and consumption practices based on “a significantly increased appetite for articles about Canada” in foreign news circles. “The ravine story would have had a steeper hill to climb to be accepted 10 or 15 years ago,” he says over the phone from his Toronto home. Over the last half-decade or so, foreign news outlets have significantly increased their presence in Canada, with some launching new bureaus. Since 2016, the New York Times has quadrupled its permanent reporter presence, the BBC has opened an editorial bureau in Toronto, the Guardian has hired a full time reporter, and Al Jazeera Arabic works consistently with a Toronto-based freelancer, reporting on Canada. These moves stand in sharp contrast to the history of foreign coverage of Canada, which is better characterized by an ebb and flow of attention rather than a consistent focus. With global interest in North America trained on the more powerful and economically relevant United States, Canada struggled to generate international headlines by virtue of its existence alone, spending a fair share of time midway down news bulletins. What makes recent investments in Canada notable is they’re playing out against a backdrop of industry-wide cutbacks here and elsewhere. In 2010, the University of Oxford’s Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism identified a “downward spiral in the quantity of international news,” the result, it stated, of serious economic pressures on big publications. Corporate ownership groups had little choice but to pay more attention to the bottom line than the public interest amid sharp declines in advertising revenue. American and British outlets with reporters on international assignment curtailed their foreign presence. Reporters who used to live incountry, developing sources and connections, were being sent in on parachute expeditions, but only when absolutely necessary. So the shift towards cultivating audiences in foreign lands like Canada has a side benefit: Richer, more compelling coverage of Canada, which attracts new readership domestically and presents opportunities for more detailed and accurate journalism, moving far beyond the stereotypes. Ian Austen began covering Canada for the New York Times over 15 years ago. Back then, he says, it wasn’t as if Canada was peripheral to United States media coverage, but the level of full-time, Canada-
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wide coverage today is “without precedent.” After all, Austen says, in the late nineties one of his predecessors, James Brooke, covered Canada—all nine million square kilometres of it—from his outpost in Colorado. So, why now? What about Canada (if anything) has changed to make us attractive to these publications? Is it our Rolling Stone-covergracing, self-proclaimed feminist prime minister? Is it the groundbreaking legalization of cannabis? Or do major news outfits from around the world see covering Canada as a way to bump up market share at a time when local publications are flagging?
Historically, Canada has not been top-of-mind
for editors at foreign publications. Daniel Lak, Al Jazeera English’s Canadian correspondent and former BBC correspondent for South Asia for more than a decade, remembers both American and British editors’ dismissive attitudes toward Canadian stories. Canadian news wasn’t important or relevant enough for them. Lak also recalls the experience of a fellow Canadian journalist’s first day of work for an American broadcast network. The journalist’s new editor told him straight off the bat: “We’ve got other Canadians working here too, but I tell you, your country is not going to get on my bulletin.” Still, several Canadian stories did sneak past the gatekeepers and into the headlines of the foreign press, drawing global attention to the country. The foreign press, for instance, took a liking to Pierre Elliott Trudeau, whose flair, style, and attention-grabbing antics made splashes. In a tribute shortly after his death in September 2000, a New York Times piece noted the most impressive of Trudeau’s accomplishments had been “making Canada cool.” Across the Atlantic, in June of 1968, France’s Le Monde began its Canadian election storyline not by describing Trudeau’s policies, but his “bronzed, [and] athletic air. ” the Guardian, in its obituary for Trudeau, recalled the global phenomenon that was “Trudeaumania” and his “supreme act of irreverence,” the “balletic pirouette” that he spun behind Queen Elizabeth in 1977. But it was Trudeau’s personality—not the country he represented—that helped bring Canada into the limelight. Another story that garnered worldwide attention dates back to 1934 when the Dionne Quintuplets, the first set of five babies known to survive infancy, were born. A 1978 article in the New York Times reflected on their celebrity, stating, “In an era that produced some of the blackest headlines of the century—from Bruno Hauptmann to Hitler and Mussolini—the Quints made the biggest news of all,” soothing a generation that “needed desperately to believe in fairy tales.” Even from as far away (geographically and cultur-
“Canada, in different ways, with its present government, is making waves in the world”
ally) as Estonia, the news of the who, if they’re going to read a Canadian Quints made its way foreign publication’s content, into the press: “Who are these demand good, unique journalDionne Quintuplets?” reads ism. Of course, the impetus for the Waba Maa. Stories such as this expansion is driven by busithis one sent ripples around the ness concerns. news world for decades, placEditorially, Canada’s abiling Canada on the map through ity to hold a headline may be –New York Times CEO sheer novelty, with Canadian reltied to how its leadership— evance incidental. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau Mark Thompson There is also the disaster–story and Freeland, for example—frame narrative that has turned the spotlight its global counterparts on topics like on Canada, such as the 1985 Air India human rights. Progressive refugee polibombing that killed more than 300 people cies, multilateralism, and vocal support of (the majority of whom were Canadian), or the human rights aren’t as ordinary as they used 2016 Fort McMurray wildfire that caused nearly $9 to be as the global political landscape careens rightbillion in damages. For the most part, though, there has been ward. Lak, the Al Jazeera correspondent, says that in a Trudeau inconsistent foreign coverage of Canada. versus Trump paradigm, Canada gets perceived internationally like “an island of stability and sanity…A sort of anchor of multilateralism.” Omar Al Saleh, freelance writer for Al Jazeera Arabic, event for the supports that view. People in the Arabic world, Al Saleh says, “see New York Times held at the University of Toronto, Canada’s Minister [Trudeau’s] charisma, how nice he is, and always sense that he of Foreign Affairs, Chrystia Freeland, was in conversation with Mark tries to accommodate all…That resonates with people in that part Thompson, president and CEO of the New York Times, and the paper’s of the world. He’s a popular man.” Even in culture-oriented pubchief White House correspondent, Peter Baker. lications like Rolling Stone, Trudeau is being highlighted because The evening’s dialogue touched on what’s made Canada more in many ways he’s the antithesis of a leader like Trump. Canadian prominent in global headlines over the last half-decade. The trio comparisons to the United States, which in the past might have touched on the country’s firm commitment to a rule-of-law-based taken away from the country’s caché by making the smaller nation international order and its progressive political stance. They spoke appear even less significant, are now a key to attracting foreign of Canada’s role in a world where fellow liberal democracies—the attention. United Kingdom (Brexit), Germany (ascendant far-right politics)— There’s also international interest in what’s going on in Canada are struggling to keep their bearings. Freeland singled Canada out domestically. Canada’s legalization of recreational cannabis is a as the strongest liberal democracy in the world— a claim neither global second, following Uruguay’s decision. What are the social, Thompson nor Baker challenged. medical, and legal implications? The taboo nature of drug legalizaAfterward, Thompson told the Ryerson Review of Journalism: tion makes it newsworthy, too, and given the fact that the outcomes “Canada is the most important market for the New York Times outof such an endeavour will be difficult to decipher until years down side the U.S. That’s both about introducing Canadians to the jourthe road, interest in Canada’s adaptation to a post-criminalized world nalism we do about the U.S. and the rest of the world, but it’s also is long-term. about doing a better job covering Canada—and we’ve invested in Although the New York Times isn’t alone in having invested in that.” One reason for the shift, he says, is the country’s growing Canada, it has arguably engaged in the broadest of the expansions news profile. “Canada is in the news. Partly because of the flow of thus far. Canada was one of two countries (along with Australia) stories, partly because Canada, in different ways, with its present targeted for NYT Global, a multifaceted project aimed at expandgovernment, is making waves in the world…It’s been an incredibly ing the paper’s digital subscriber base outside the United States. On busy news period, and the New York Times is a story-driven journalthe ground, that’s meant more correspondents in Canada, targeted ism shop.” social-media marketing, subscriber events across the country (like Indeed, major publications are upping their offerings here the panel in Toronto), and the creation of content like the Canada because they see a significant, previously underserved audience Letter—a weekly newsletter that provides curated, Canada-centric
At a December 2018 subscriber
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stories for the Times’ audience north of the border. “Yes, it’s news interest,” says Austen, who writes the Canada letter, speaking about what’s driven the Times expansion here. “But the news department has the money to pay my salary in part because we see Canada as an important place to develop more subscribers from.” The scale of investment by the Times has also led to Canadacentric coverage, such as a story on British Columbia’s political culture. In the piece, reporter Dan Levin exposed the “unabashedly cozy relationship between private interests and government officials.” His investigation detailed a system in which donations were exchanged for political favours and foreign money injected into provincial parties’ coffers in large sums. According to Levin’s article, some of the biggest donors to premier Christy Clark’s Liberal party were Chinabased real estate developers and Kinder Morgan, the Texas oil company whose Trans Mountain pipeline was approved by her government, which had donated nearly three-quarters-of-a-million dollars to the British Columbia Liberals. A week after Levin’s article ran, multiple outlets reported that Clak would no longer be receiving her controversially funded party stipend. And in addition to investing in original, localized reporting, the Times has expanded its focus on cultural writing to discovering Canada for Canadian and international readers. It sent its new Montreal correspondent, Dan Bilefsky, on a ten-day road trip to explore his native province of Quebec. He reported from cafes, factories, First Nations communities, and mosques. The paper’s combination of better local coverage and top-notch global reporting has attracted a growing local audience. In 2015, the year before the NYT Global initiative began, the Times’ website averaged just over 3.7 million unique visitors in Canada, per month. But by 2018, that number had increased by almost 800,000. Over the same period, the Globe and Mail’s number for online unique visitors per month in Canada also increased by 800,000, from 6.1 to 6.9 million. The Globe’s reach is bound to be larger than a foreign paper’s, but the fact that the Times was able to keep pace with the Globe over three years shows that they are making up ground on Canada’s major domestic paper. In summer 2018, Harvard’s Nieman Journalism Lab pegged Canada’s share of the Times’ international digital subscriber base at about 27 percent—just shy of 100,000 subscriptions. It’s an impressive number and illustrates the trust that’s been developed between audience and publication. But its significance is even more remarkable when one considers that, according to metrics reported by Nieman Lab, the Times’ paying, digital-subscriber base in Canada (estimated at 94,365 subscriptions) now outstrips that of “any Canadian news organization.”
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Less grand forays into the Canadian news market are
coming from outlets farther afield than the United States. In 2016, BBC pursued a scaled back version of the audience-growth strategy the Times had used by creating a Canadian version of its BBC North America site and placing a small editorial team in Toronto. “We were quite clear—it was obvious from our data—that Canada was our second-biggest market [outside the United Kingdom] after the U.S.,” says Jim Egan, CEO of BBC Global News. According to ComScore data from 2015-16, before the company’s expansion into Canada, BBC’s Canadian audience was already robust: 5.6 million unique visitors a month (considerably larger than the Times’ 3.7 million per month from the same year and nearing the Globe’s tally at the time), along with every major pay-TV platform in the country carrying BBC’s 24/7 world news channel. Despite that solid foundation, Egan says BBC felt guilty for underserving its Canadian audience prior to expansion. “We feel we have increased both quantity and quality of Canada coverage, and if you look at the Canada tab of BBC.com, there is no day when we have zero stories on Canada, and many days when that goes up to three, four, or five.” One example of a story that had a strong Canadian angle is a 2016 video feature on the emotional reunion between Lyse Doucet, BBC’s chief international correspondent (who is a Canadian), and a Syrian refugee family in Toronto. Doucet had last seen the family and its young children in 2014 in Damascus, under dramatically different circumstances. The story underscored the human-interest angle that exists within the broader narrative of Canadian acceptance of refugees, but likely would have been missed had BBC not placed a new emphasis on Canadian storytelling. The website also published a multi-media essay, “Black in Canada,” which profiled the experiences of Black Canadians living across the country. “That one really showcases not just the way we are telling stories about all the diversity of life in Canada, but actually doing that in a very innovative, media-rich, photo essay kind of way,” Egan says. Prior to opening up its Toronto bureau, BBC didn’t have a permanent reporter in Canada and often reported on the country by parachuting journalists in from Washington D.C. or New York. This lacked the “strategic commitment” they have now, Egan says. But with its new permanent reporters, the publication is making a shift in the kind of story it can tell. “It just must be the case that having Canadians cover those stories adds to the authenticity and the credibility of that coverage,” Egan says. “Because those stories are being covered by people who understand the subtleties and the nuances [of life in Canada].” The Guardian’s growth in Canada is similar to its compatriots’ at the BBC. Chris Michael, an editor at the Guardian, and a Toronto
“Canada is the most important market for the New York Times outside the U.S.”
native, says that Canadian “There has never been four readers show a hunger for full-time people in the country as much journalism about before,” Austen says about the Canada as they can get, and Times. The paper’s growth isn’t given the financial struggles expected to slow down either, that Canadian publications are according to President and CEO facing, they’re turning to other Thompson. He says it’s his hope reputable sources for their news. to increase the company’s pres–Mark Thompson “I think that not just the Guardian, ence even more in Canada over but the New York Times and other the next five to 10 years. “We want people are finding that there’s an to do it judiciously, but yes, that’s our appetite among Canadian readers for view.” their journalism.” The Guardian’s funding model is different than that of the Times or BBC and has influenced by domestic how it can grow here. The paper places an emphasis Canadian media have created a gap in the news maron reader revenues, utilizing subscriptions, memberships, and ket here. According to Ryerson University’s Local News Research patronages to make money, as well as the Scott Trust (its sole owner), Project, since 2008, publications have shut down at more than douwhich reinvests profits back into journalism. In 2018, the paper’s ble the rate they’ve been created. As that’s taken place, audiences editor-in-chief, Katharine Viner, penned an article announcing it here are still looking for authoritative coverage of their own country had received financial support from more than a million readers and of news around the world. around the world. The funding model is oriented around indepenAlthough representatives of each publication stated that their dence, which allows Guardian editors to seek out stories and serve goal is not to compete with domestic papers on domestic news (and audiences in ways they think are important, not to gain advertising they couldn’t, given the scale of their investments), collectively, their money or to serve an owner’s interests. actions have picked up some slack in the country’s journalism indusThe Guardian also has partnerships with philanthropic organizatry. “It’s undeniable that the Guardian isn’t in the same space as the tions whose visions align with the paper’s interests, funding stories Globe and Mail, but the distinction between foreign and domestic is that might not be able to run under different funding structures. blurring a little bit,” says Guardian editor Michael. Examples include the Rockefeller Foundation, which provides supThis new and different coverage is possibly a new chapter in the port to the “Cities” section, allowing stories like Cecco’s feature on story of foreign reporting. While many publications are still reeling Toronto’s ravines to be produced and shifting the way in which ediin their international correspondents, more are heading to Canada tors analyze pitches for stories. The philanthropic relationship is a to develop connections to the communities they cover and to report one-way street, though, according to Michael. “We’re 100 percent with greater authority than the parachute reporters of previous editorially independent in every way,” he says. “There’s a report decades. “The classic model of foreign correspondents is changing a structure because they want to see how their money is being spent, little. It survives, but it’s slowly adapting to the modern age,” Michael but that’s all handled by the foundation team who sit between us and says. Relatively small teams of reporters, along with freelancers (who them as a kind of buffer.” are sought out based on their familiarity with the country) are supCanadian audiences can’t seem to get enough of the new options ported in their journalism by measured business expansions, creatfor their journalism consumption. ComScore data shows that since ing news aimed at audiences both in-country and abroad. 2015, Canadian unique monthly visitors to the two outlets’ (BBC.com And as a benefit to the companies who showed confidence in the and the Guardian) online sites have increased by roughly 500,000 Canadian appetite for quality journalism, the country’s news profile and 700,000 respectively. has skyrocketed. “We didn’t know any of these things were going to The new model for reporting on Canada—looking for reasons to happen in advance,” says the BBC’s Egan, in reference to headline expand rather than contract—counters an industry-wide trend of stories like the developing dynamic between Trump and Trudeau. shuttering foreign news bureaus. That is to say, recent investments “So there’s been a degree of good fortune for us.” by companies like BBC, the New York Times, the Guardian, and Al That’s a modest way of saying that betting on Canada has paid Jazeera are noteworthy departures from conventional strategy. off.
The struggles faced
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THE EMPRESS’S NEW CLOTHES With a renewed surge of activism and outrage from women, the media meant to serve them has found yet another consumer good to sell: feminism B Y K ATHERINE SINGH COLLAGE BY FRANZISKA BARCZYK
It’s an early morning in mid-October 2018 and
the offices of the recently-launched Refinery29 Canada are slowly coming to life. Looking around, it’s easy to see just how different this iteration of women’s media is from those of the past. For one, its temporary home is a WeWork space, outfitted with millennial trappings. Plants line the windows, a tasteful amount of honey-coloured wood tables offset the stark-white walls, warming the industrialism of the space, and not a cubicle in sight. All of it is highlighted by a “Toronto” sign glowing in a burnt orange hue (they have since moved to a new WeWork office). The room is gorgeous, if not slightly intimidatingly hip and, now, as the pace of office life perks up, different projects, careers, and lives intersect as hidden speakers pump out the low but pulsating sounds of Drake’s latest romantic drama. Three weeks earlier, Carley Fortune, executive editor of Refinery29 Canada, and her intern, Kate Kelleher, had been sitting at the same table Fortune is at now, a mug of steaming tea in hand, discussing the online publication’s debut moment. “Kate and I were
44 RYERSON REVIEW OF JOURNALISM | SPRING 2019
trying to get everything ready,” Fortune explains. “She was flipping [publishing content from the United States or United Kingdom edition to the Canadian edition]. I was organizing pages and looking at our Canada-only stories, and I just started laughing out loud. Here we are launching a site [and] it’s all very calm.” In her first letter from the editor—the inaugural piece of content to go live—Fortune made the publication’s intent clear: “Our mission is to help women see, feel, and claim their power by creating ambitious, authentic, and always entertaining content—imaginative, honest stories and service that will help you navigate this brave new world as a woman as well as a change-maker in your own right.” Fortune is careful to not explicitly identify Refinery29 Canada as feminist, but it’s hard not to label the platform as such. Feminism pops up throughout our conversation. It’s present in the language and images used on Refinery29 Canada’s website, and it’s clear in the visuals used for Fortune’s first editor’s letter, which features images of protest signs emblazoned with “WOMEN WOMEN WOMEN” and the Venus symbol. The media platform isn’t alone. Since 2015, women’s publications have sought to tap into the feminist and politicized values fueling millennial women, in both content and their mandates. In December 2016, Teen Vogue led the charge, publishing the op-ed, “Donald Trump Is Gaslighting America.” Flare has launched an annual #12DaysofFeminists initiative, and released a millennial guide to the Ontario election. While Chatelaine has continued to publish in-depth features, sprinkling in pieces on Yazidi refugees and incels, alongside recipes for the perfect Christmas cookie. “The industry has responded to the changes in the culture,” Fortune says. But this shift in content may not be as authentic as it appears. In December 2018, the Cut, the feminist-minded sister-publication of New York magazine that aims to empower women, published a commentary on the marriage and wedding of A-listers Priyanka Chopra and Nick Jonas. The article, which was removed for “miss[ing] the mark,” stated the Cut, took aim at Chopra, suggesting the internationally acclaimed Bollywood actress is a gold-digger and scam artist, insinuating her marriage was for fame and fortune. The article received immediate backlash on social media. Jasmeet Sidhu, a former Toronto Star journalist and 2009 recipient of The Michele Landsberg Award—which celebrates outstanding feminists in media or activism—tweeted: “the Cut’s Priyanka Chopra piece reveals what all so-called ‘women’s websites’ really are about: platforms to sell high ad-dollars for clothing [and] beauty products in the name of women’s empowerment but for the clicks of doing what society does to us on the daily: tear us down.” Sidhu later clarified over email that the article had been widely condemned as a “racist, xenophobic, and honestly lazy attack on a woman.” It was a scathing assessment of the women’s media industry, but maybe, not out of line. Despite the cries of girl power and together-
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ness, women’s magazines are co-opting feminism for commercial purposes. But this isn’t anything new. For the past 60 years, women’s magazines have dipped their toes in the raging waters of feminism, always refraining from jumping right in. This latest co-option has fostered the creation of feminism-lite, an Instagram-friendly, palatable, and ultimately sellable version of feminism—and it’s one people are gladly buying.
of these traditional publishers and smaller digital brands are not able to compete in the same way.”
Despite Refinery29’s abundance of online data,
You don’t have to be a lover—or even a reader —of women’s media to be somewhat familiar with Refinery29. Before Fortune clicked “publish” on the Canadian site, the brand had already been built, known for its distinct visuals and viral content, having—over a decade—firmly positioned itself at the head of the pink-hued women’s media pack. Launched in 2005 as a city guide and curator of “hot spots” around New York City, Refinery29 initially focused on fashion and style as the sole drivers, before expanding the breadth of its content, incorporating beauty, home, wellness, entertainment, and finance. In the lead up to the 2016 United States presidential election, Refinery29 noticed a shift in the needs of its readership. It made the conscious decision to lean in to political and news-oriented topics, and they have spent the last three years cultivating an identity as the online mecca for women to talk freely about everything from politics to sexuality to the newest jean trend (it’s low-rise). Refinery29 has clearly found the right financial formula. In 2012 and 2013, the platform was the fastest–growing media company on the Inc. 5000—a list of America’s top entrepreneurs. According to October 2018 statistics by the company, in the last year, Refinery29 was expected to connect with 425 million people across all platforms—including websites, social media, videos, and live events. In 2016, according to Inc. 5000, the company pulled in $80 million in revenue. Even without content geared explicitly towards Canadians, Refinery29 generated traffic. Before the Canadian launch, the site was drawing in 1.3 million unique Canadian visitors a month. “We have a really unparalleled connectivity with a millennial consumer,” says Jessey Finizio, senior sales director for Refinery29 Canada. “We’re really a trusted voice, a terrific resource across every single touch point in your life. From the moment you’re waking up in the morning to [your] wellness routine, to the things you’re putting in your body, to the clothes [you’re] wearing, to the things [you’re] asking for in the workplace, to the fun places you can go grab a drink with [your] friends after work. “Because we’re a digitally native platform, we’re sitting on probably close to 15 years of data on our audience globally,” Finizio says. This allows Refinery29 to be “ahead of the curve,” jumping on trends and catering content to its readers, responding in real time “with sort of a proven formula for success,” she continues. “I think a lot
“ ... putting on a pink pussy hat is tangible and seems radical, even if it’s relatively low-risk—or as Sheila Sampath says: inherently apolitical”
you don’t need a trend tracker to discern the feeling of our time: rage. Specifically feminine rage. And it’s easy to pinpoint the exact moment it happened. “People were pissed. They were fired up and ready for action,” Globe and Mail columnist Elizabeth Renzetti says of the days after Donald Trump’s inauguration. Renzetti, the author of Shrewed, a 2018 anthology of essays and stories on feminism, was inspired by the outcome of the 2016 election and what she says was her own sense of feminist complacency—and naivete. The reaction to Trump’s win was swift. The day after the inauguration, women across the United States marched, pussy hats melding together into one vibrant pink wave. In Canada, this change had been brewing for years, instigated by the outcome of the 2016 trial of Jian Ghomeshi. Ghomeshi, a former CBC radio host, was charged with four counts of sexual assault and one count of overcoming resistance to sexual assault by choking in 2015. He was found not guilty of all charges in March 2016. Gloria Steinem, often thought of as the mother of second-wave feminism, stood at the March on Washington podium with a battle cry: “When we elect a possible president, we too often go home. We’ve elected an impossible president, we’re never going home. We’re staying together. And we’re taking over.” Less than a year later, in October 2017, a tweet by actress Alyssa Milano elicited a similar battle cry. Asking survivors of sexual assault to join in solidarity, Milano tweeted #MeToo, re-igniting a decade-long movement started by activist Tarana Burke, convincing an avalanche of women—and men—to speak out. “The #MeToo movement would not have happened—I sincerely believe—if Hillary Clinton had been elected president,” Renzetti says. “There was just something about that moment that made it perfect for these women to feel emboldened to come forward and to say: ‘Time’s up. No more. That’s it.’” The Ghomeshi trial had a similar effect on Tessa Jordan, a faculty member in the communications department at the British Columbia Institute of Technology, convincing her to discuss feminist ideologies outside of her academic and activism settings. “[Feminism became] more of a part of the zeitgeist, just in general,” Jordan says of the resurgence of feminism. Jordan has studied Canadian feminist periodicals from the 1970s and 1980s, and has seen an increased interest in feminism in her students, as well as an increased number of researchers studying second-wave feminist print culture since she began working in this field in 2006. And this has effects on the media that covers women, though the degree to which publications cover the changing landscape of SPRING 2019 | RYERSON REVIEW OF JOURNALISM 47
feminism and politics is dependent on editors interpretation, or as Fortune says, how “woke” they are. Arguably the biggest change has come from how these media outlets think of their readers: not as one mass entity, but as individuals with diverse interests and experiences. “When we’re talking about women’s issues, we have to be aware that women just aren’t skinny white women who live in cities,” says Global News’ Laura Hensley. “Women are from diverse backgrounds, have different sexual identities, have different experiences. And we have to create content that resonates with them.” Hensley, a former entertainment writer at Flare, started at the then-newly digital women’s magazine in 2017, and says that while shaping Flare’s content in the transition to online, inclusivity was front of mind. This is a far cry from the mentality even 10 years ago, when women’s media readers were seen as so uniform they shared a name: Robin. In a May 2010 article for Toronto Life, Fortune—then a journalist at the publication—wrote a short commentary on the “death” of Robin, aged 37 of Markham, Ontario. But Robin wasn’t real. She was a prototype—the “model reader” of Chatelaine, established through market research. She was middle class, lived in the suburbs, and read The Da Vinci Code. Her death was, of course, metaphorical, prompted by the legacy magazine’s 2010 re-design under Jane Francisco. “Oh my gosh,” Fortune laughs at the mention of Robin, eight years later. “There is no cardboard cutout [at Refinery29],” she says. “I think that’s a really important distinction between that older model...We don’t have a Robin. Our readers are multi–dimensional and multi–faceted and from very different experiences.” Flare views its readers similarly. In May 2018, the magazine launched its “Alternative First Times Package.” Ten stories about readers’ sexual “firsts” that went beyond the “norm.” The package broke the typical and heteronormative idea of losing one’s virginity as a seminal sexual experience, allowing women to share their stories about the pleasure and shame that comes with the first experience of masturbating, the liberation of having sex in the correct gender, and the vulnerability of being intimate after having an abortion or getting sober. In February 2018, Flare kicked off Black History Month by featuring an entire homepage of articles by or about Black women and their experiences in Canada. At Chatelaine, Lianne George, editor-in-chief from 2015 to 2018, promised to “offer more cutting-edge reporting” among the recipes, fashion, beauty, and health advice, as well as at least one in-depth feature an issue—a fact highlighted in the brand’s media kit. “It was clear that women were having public conversations about things that had been kind of slipped under the rug for a long time,” George says. “I felt like it was an opportunity to help drive that.” A key inspiration was the publication’s history of reporting on controversial women’s issues in the ’60s and ’70s. A January 2018 feature by Sarah Boesveld, “The Renfrew
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What Fashion has to do with it While many women’s lifestyle brands have visibly made the foray into politics and feminism, for fashion publications the change has been subtler. This could be, in part, because we don’t necessarily expect to find feminist and political content in fashion magazines. Instead, we expect these glossy magazines to try to sell us stuff. For Noreen Flanagan, the editor-in-chief of Fashion magazine, there’s always a narrative behind—and around—fashion that extends beyond the clothes and trends themselves. “I’m interested in the technique and artistry, but I also wonder: What are some of the cultural, political, or social stories being told? If fashion is the barometer to which we look at the world, what is it telling us about the world?” Flanagan asks. She points to the Fall 2018 cover themes as evidence of fashion intersecting with social issues. In August 2018, the brand featured Crazy Rich Asians actress Constance Wu on its cover. November saw the first carbon zerocertified copy of the magazine, and in October it released a statement on the state of the world. Featuring a woman in a head-to-toe parka look in an ice cave. Sustainability now has its own header on the magazine’s website, alongside mainstays like fashion, beauty, culture, and lifestyle. This inherent politicism in fashion is perhaps the reason Flanagan says she hasn’t necessarily felt the need to mould to the current conversations in society. They’re just continuing conversations Fashion has always been having.
County Murders Are Not An Anomaly” was published under George. It detailed a series of 2015 domestic homicides by Basil Borutski, and the country’s failure to protect the women at the heart of them. Borutski was charged with three separate counts of first-degree murder. In November 2017, he was found guilty of first degree murder on counts one and two, and second degree murder on count three. “The details of Borutski’s case are exceptional: rarely has a perpetrator killed three former partners in the span of mere hours,” Boesveld wrote. “The general pattern, however, is anything but. The well-documented escalating history of violence that characterized Borutski’s relationship with these women precedes three out of four cases of domestic homicide in this country.” Boesveld’s reporting took a long and hard look at the rates of domestic violence in Canada and the lack of resources to aid both perpetrators and victims before it gets to the extreme.
Hard-hitting content isn’t anything new. The Borutski story is far from the first time women’s magazines have taken the resistance off the streets and onto the page. The ’60s and ’70s were marked by a period of tumult. Having leapt the barrier between the public and private sphere—with more women entering the workforce during war time—women were changed, and so had their roles and ideals. They wanted equality inside and outside the home, and autonomy over their bodies both personally and politically. They wanted to know how to protect themselves legally. They wanted a voice. In 1978, journalist and feminist Michele Landsberg was interviewed by a male editor from the Star. “[He] pointed out his window and said, ‘See the CN Tower there? I’ll tell you what, if I look out the window and I see a man climbing the CN Tower, that’s front–page news. That’s news. Now, if I look out and see a woman climbing the tower, that’s women’s news,’” she recalls. “Everything was seen from a male point of view.” In Canada, alongside the surge of second-wave feminism, the early ’60s and ’70s simultaneously gave rise to new feminist magazines, like Edmonton-based Branching Out, launched in 1973, as well as the rebirth of one of the country’s mainstay women’s lifestyle publications: Chatelaine. Originally founded in 1928, Chatelaine had become well known as the housewife’s bible, and was re-imagined during this period under the helm of Doris Anderson, who took over as editor-in-chief in 1957. During her 20-year tenure, Anderson extended the magazine’s content beyond stories of women excelling, into stories about women’s real lives and issues that affected them, tackling subjects that no other media recognized at the time, Landsberg says. This included topics such as race, maternity leave, and sexual assault. The September 1971 issue featured an article, “Nice Girls Don’t Get Raped, Do They?” that spelled out the ways in which victims of
abuse were discouraged from reporting by police, courts, and public opinion, laying out the necessity for a shift in the way society spoke about victims, rape, and consent. “It took a while before these ideas got more widespread,” Landsberg says. “At the beginning, I could have been from Mars.” With the women’s movement just starting to gain traction, Landsberg says the jargon and academic language for feminism didn’t exist. They were just ideas—it was the wild west of feminism, or the “feminist 1970s” as Steinem referred to it. Landsberg was writing “blazing feminist” columns. “[Chatelaine] was a very political magazine, far more political than it is now.” D.B. Scott, a longtime Canadian magazine critic, doesn’t necessarily agree with Landsberg’s statement, but says there was something going on under Anderson. “If you looked at Chatelaine before Doris Anderson came along and looked at Chatelaine after she got through with it, it was a quite dramatically changed publication,” Scott says. But there’s a reason for that. “The issues that they put the greatest emphasis on, such as abortion, [and] equality in the workplace, that was all the results of an editorial team and the leaders who understood that this was something that was bound to be of interest to a modern female audience.” And that’s the point. Women’s magazines have always played an important role in society, as a physical encapsulation of a specific period in time. And regardless of time period, the goal remains the same: It’s all about meeting readers where they’re at—and by extension, where their wallets are. “Magazines, whether they’re digital or traditional print, tend to be vehicles by which advertisers reach the audience,” Scott says. That’s something that hasn’t changed since Anderson’s time, when Landsberg says the “ad men” were beating down Anderson’s door, trying to bribe the editor-in-chief to put their brand of frozen peas in the magazine’s recipes. “Even something like Refinery29 [is] designed to be a means to reach valuable readers,” Scott says. “The way in which the audience is served, that’s going to change, but ultimately, it’s the traditional magazine business model—which is renting readers to advertisers.” It’s Magazines 101, Scott says. If readers are well-served with stories that resonate with them, they’ll come back. The fact remains that women’s magazines have been selling feminism since their inception, the question is to what degree, and what type of feminism is it.
In 2014, just under 60 years after Anderson took the helm at Chatelaine, Beyoncé closed the MTV Music Video Awards, dominating the stage as the word “FEMINIST” flashed across the screen behind her. Her song “Flawless” reverberated throughout the venue, sampling the words of Nigerian poet and author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie before concluding with a paraSPRING 2019 | RYERSON REVIEW OF JOURNALISM 49
phrase of the dictionary definition of “feminist”: “The person who believes in the social, political, and economic equality of the sexes.” Bitch Magazine founder Andi Zeisler wrote in her 2016 book, We Were Feminists Once, that this was a turning point for feminism, a culmination of an excitement that had been humming just under the surface of mainstream culture for years. Feminism, “so long diminished as the realm of the angry, the cynical, the man-hating, and the off-puttingly hairy,” Zeisler wrote, had officially become hot, and potentially for the first time ever, had hit the mainstream market. And—most importantly—it had become sellable. Feminism quickly became a part of Beyoncé’s brand identity. On the internet, “Feminist” emblazoned shirts in the same font and pink hue as her merchandise quickly popped up. “[She made feminism accessible] to a wider audience,” Naila Keleta-Mae, an assistant professor in communication arts at the University of Waterloo says. But at what cost? Despite the shift to more visible feminism, as exhibited by Beyoncé and the surge in women (as well as men and non-binary folk) identifying as feminist in their Instagram bios, it would seem women, surprisingly, aren’t swinging from the rafters declaring themselves as such. A 2015 poll by Abacus Data, conducted as part of Chatelaine’s “This is 40ish” survey, found that of the 1,000 women polled, aged 35 to 45, 68 percent don’t identify as feminists. A more recent survey by Statista, conducted in 2017, found that only 19 percent of Canadian women identify as feminists. In the United States, half of millennial women don’t identify as feminists, with 54 percent of young women polled eschewing the label in an August 2018 poll for Refinery29 and CNN. It still seems low compared to the surge in feminism online and across the chests of women and men everywhere. “Visibility of feminism does not equate support for women’s equality in practice,” says Lauren McKeon, the author of F-Bomb: Dispatches from the War on Feminism. Instead, McKeon says the commoditization of feminism has given rise to something else. “[It’s] a very watered down version of feminism,” she says. “Kind of [a] feminism-lite.” When it comes to feminism, this isn’t bad in itself, McKeon says. “I don’t think that people shouldn’t proclaim that they’re feminists. I think it is good that people do feel more comfortable and proud to say they’re feminists and to wear that tote bag and that mug.” But it becomes dangerous when feminism becomes a “consumption practice,” she says. Similar to Malcolm Gladwell’s coining of #Activism in a 2010 article for the New Yorker—in which individuals use social media to become engaged in movements superficially, without making any of the strong ties or doing any of the hard, tangible work of activism—the problem with this version of feminism is the idea of it being transactional. “Like you can buy it, you can buy your way to feminism or wear your way to feminism, that’s where it becomes dangerous,” McKeon says. “When that’s the only thing we do, and then where we sort of give the impression that’s the only thing we need to do.”
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The impression that buying these products gives women some sort of unnamed fulfillment, Global News’ Hensley adds. Pointing to brands like Indigo, who’ve made a name for its branded “Femme and Fierce” mugs and candles, Hensley is confused as to the messaging. “All of these things have turned into opportunities for companies and brands to sell things. To sell feminism. To give back to women the sense of empowerment that they apparently had and then lost and then have again if they apparently buy this.” And in some respects, this ability to easily purchase #Feminism is what makes this type of feminism so popular. Much like Gladwell’s #Activism, putting on a pink pussy hat is tangible and seems radical, even if it’s relatively low-risk—or as Sheila Sampath says, “Inherently apolitical.” “I feel like that’s actually pretty popular,” says Sampath, the editorial and art director of Shameless, a Canadian, grassroots feminist magazine. “The fact that people feel confident to be like ‘I went to the Women’s March, I wore a pussy hat.’ I think it’s really comfortable for people to wear shirts that say, ‘The Future is Female’ or whatever...I don’t think there’s a stigma around that. I don’t think people get harassed on the street for that.” But McKeon says, “What isn’t popular is getting to the politics of feminism and talking about what needs to change and trying to make that change and putting yourself out there and trying to talk about ideas and standing up to people. That’s a lot harder to do, and I think that’s what’s still wildly unpopular.”
If the nitty gritty feminism Sampath hopes for is absent in practice, to some extent it remains similarly absent from the pages of women’s magazines because women’s media is keeping in line with their audiences and leaning in to #Feminism. “I think that a lot of brands are really capitalizing off feminism and wokeness,” Hensley says. And while some women’s media brands are lending authenticity to their content—by contributing wellresearched pieces that add to or propel current conversation— there’s a fine line between authentic and faux feminism. “I think a lot of brands brand themselves as feminist publications and really use that as a selling point,” Hensley clarifies via email. “Feminism is relevant—and arguably ‘trendy’ now—and ‘being woke’ is culturally important, so being tapped into [it] is vital to the success of a brand. Many publications brand themselves as feminist thought leaders—regardless of whether or not they employ those principals at the workplace—when it comes to how they market themselves.” Sometimes, it can feel like publications are grasping at straws, slapping feminist terminology onto any and all content for the currency of it. The Winter 2019 issue of Fashion, while notable for its spotlight on young up-and-coming Canadian designers, features a holiday shopping guide for everyone on your list, inspired by the most popular memes of the year. It included the perfect gifts for
“ This latest co-option has fostered the creation of feminismlite, an Instagramfriendly, palatable and, ultimately, sellable version of feminism”
“frazzled friends” who “between work, family drama, and the neverending battle for gender equality” need help staying organized. Not in terms of organizing a protest or a women’s march to take down the patriarchy—but rather, staying organized with Coach’s newest fanny pack or a pack of 10 Pantone-coloured notebooks. It goes beyond just the use of hashtags and buzz words. Publications like Flare and Refinery29 have become identifiable for both the platform’s narrative voices, consistent throughout articles, as well as visual aesthetics. For Refinery29 Canada, the website’s imagery was one aspect that drew new editor-in-chief Fortune to the publication, she says. The graphics are soft-hued, akin to something you’d find pinned to a millennial mood board or a Pinterest page— and the copy follows suite. Flare’s articles are littered with hashtagfilled identifiers: #Girlboss, #WCW, to name a few. The imagery is hip and fun, but it also lends itself to scrutiny for appearing slightly manufactured: an inauthentic feminist voice. This critique and question of authenticity is one that Fortune particularly takes issue with. “Is it inauthentic to cover sports?” she asks. “Is it inauthentic for a business publication to cover the business community? And so, is it inauthentic for a women’s publication to cover the culture and women’s issues? What’s the underlying question there?” “I hate to say it, but the emptier feminism, the empowerment [feminism], I think it’s really fashionable right now,” Sampath says of the content being put out by most women’s media publications. “[It’s] especially fashionable after the election in the States and after #MeToo. But I don’t think the conversation’s where it should be. I think that’s why it’s so digestible.”
But can we really fault these brands for straddling the line when it comes to feminist content? The reality of the situation is that the “blazing” feminist articles Landsberg fondly recalls writing, don’t necessarily sell. This has never been more apparent than with the November 2018 shuttering of Rookie magazine, the forward-thinking feminist tome for young women. “In one way, this is not my decision, because digital media has become an increasingly difficult business, and Rookie in its current form is no longer financially sustainable,” Tavi Gevinson, founder and editor wrote in her final letter from the editor. She later elaborated: “It has sometimes felt like there are two Rookies. There’s the publication that you read, that I also love reading, writing for, and editing, and then there is the company that I own and am responsible for. The former is an art project. The latter is a business.” And the business end just wasn’t working. “It’s very difficult because if revenue models are driven by advertising, advertisers want to feature their products in an environment that is friendly to their products and that it speaks to their products and how you might use their products,” Lianne George SPRING 2019 | RYERSON REVIEW OF JOURNALISM 51
says. “The challenge is always going into the offices of the people making the decisions about where to place their advertising and saying, ‘We want you to place your advertising next to our story about Indigenous rights or our story about the pro-choice movement.’ It’s just not what advertisers really want for their product,” George says. And that consideration can play in to decisions about the editorial content, and, in a way, the nature and authenticity of the ideals they espouse. “I think we were all lulled into feeling great about women’s media sites for a bit,” Star journalist Sidhu wrote in an email of the rise of empowerment content in women’s media. “[But], it was naive to ignore that these spaces would soon be recognized quickly as new spaces to exploit women’s discretionary budgets and potentially high proclivity to spend.” Sidhu points to the creation of Bustle, an American-based women’s website that was created by Bryan Goldberg, a man, who saw the creation as his next profitable venture after the creation of a successful sports website. “Giant advertisers like Unilever were looking for places to spend their high ad dollars to reach women,” Sidhu writes. She doesn’t fault him for seizing a business opportunity, but “it reminded [me] to remember these sites don’t exist to make me feel good or improve my life—they exist to make money.” She was reminded of this while reading the Cut’s piece on Priyanka Chopra and crafting her tweet. “It reminded me to always be critical of content that is targeted specific[ally] to women. That empowerment content is exactly that, content, to bring in eye balls for sale.” “The challenge has been to develop a business model that supports a women’s publication or a women’s media brand that only features challenging issues that affect women’s lives,” George says. And until that happens, can women’s magazines ever be truly, authentically feminist? It’s complicated. “[They] can be authentically feminist—we all have to survive under capitalism while simultaneously undermining it,” Sampath writes over email. “The issue is more about where accountability lies. Is it to a politic and a readership? Or to advertisers who may have differing views and agendas?” And even if it was truly, authentically feminist, who’s to say that mainstream readers would want it? Launched from the ground floor of Susan McMaster’s Edmonton co-op in the ’70s, Branching Out magazine was meant to be an in-between of the hardcore feminism of Ms. to the south, and the glossy appeal of mainstream Chatelaine. “[Branching Out] really was trying to look beyond the people who [were] already aligned with feminist values,” Tessa Jordan says, “it wanted to bring this content to women who [were] not aligned with the movement.” And progressively, the magazine became more radical in its content as the movement started to grow in society. “As women’s issues began to be covered explicitly in the mainstream press and it became a lager more widespread movement...as the audience for feminism grew, than there was that expectation that it treat these issues in a very nuanced way,” Jordan of the British
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Columbia Institute of Technology says. And it appears Doris Anderson may have been following along with them. In her quasi-autobiographical 1981 novel, Rough Layout, the protagonist, Jude, an editor of a woman’s magazine, voices the trials of running a women’s magazine in that era, defending the magazine to her feminist friend. “Look, I push feminist articles as much as I can,” Jude says. “I’ve got a certain kind of magazine. It’s not Ms. It’s not Branching Out. It’s not Status of Women News. But it does reach a lot of women and it can make an impact.” In the same excerpt, Anderson highlights the discrepancy between Jude and the all-male advertising team’s views on the female readership of the magazine. Jude made sure to tackle the domestic areas, “but for her own satisfaction she laced the magazine with a strong dose of feminist articles,” Anderson wrote. Before Anderson left Chatelaine, Branching Out’s McMaster recalls Anderson asking her to lunch. She was surprised to find out that it was an interview for Anderson’s job. “I thought [it] was pretty neat because back in the day before any major feminist publications, Doris did have some of the only reasonable articles,” McMaster says. “It certainly [was] not a raging feminist magazine, but it did have some explorations of issues.” But she says it felt like an acknowledgment of the way Anderson wanted the magazine to go. McMaster met with her and another woman at a restaurant in downtown Toronto. “So, anyway, the other woman got the job, and I’m sure correctly so,” McMaster says (The other woman was Mildred Istona who served as editor-in-chief from 1977 until 1994). Maybe, like Anderson’s book alluded, readers just weren’t ready for the kind of feminism Jude wanted.
By the time we finish talking, just over an hour after we first entered the silent WeWork, it’s a different place entirely. The low vibrations of Drake’s Scorpion album are now overpowered by the chatter of keyboards and young professionals talking. As we get up and say goodbye, Fortune seems distracted, looking over her shoulder at the bustle behind her. It’s noisy, something she points out as we walk down the short hallway to the elevators. “Do you see how noisy it gets?” she asks, before asking if I noticed the beer taps at the back of the space. I hadn’t. It’s a little too early in the week for their use, but on Fridays, people in the office will get together to kick off the weekend and celebrate the end of a long week. Along with the beer, Fortune notes that on Fridays they play complimentary, if not distracting “club music.” All day. As we wait for the elevator to reach the third floor, she looks back through the open doors into the bustling office and laughs. “I can’t wait until we have our own office.”
Catching the Wave
Which era of feminism are we in and where do we find it? FIRST WAVE (1848 to 1920) Long before pink pussy hats, the suffragettes marched in white. The First Wave often refers to movements that advocated for women’s suffrage, legal, and constitutional rights, calling for access to higher education, the right to vote, and married women’s property rights. Look for it: in pamphlets
SECOND WAVE (1960s to mid-1980s) The Second Wave was motivated by a desire for liberation both in the public and private sphere. The Feminine Mystique, released in 1963, is emblematic of the time, rallying against “the problem that has no name”: the sexism that taught women that their place was in the home. This wave further fought to provide women with sexual liberation and access to contraception and abortion rights. This wave of feminism has been largely critiqued for its exclusivity, primarily because its ideologies were determined by privileged, white, heterosexual women. Look for it: on your TV screen
THIRD WAVE (1990s to Now?) Third Wave feminism has been seen as a distancing from the white, middle-class feminism of the previous wave, focusing on intersections with gender, ethnicity, sexuality, and socio-economic status. This wave was influenced by the rise of riot grrrls, girl groups, and celebrities like Madonna who unapologetically reclaimed their sexuality. This wave has also become synonymous with “girlie” feminism, an offshoot of the wave that revalues activities and interests typically associated with femininity. “The confusion surrounding what constitutes third wave feminism is in some respects its defining feature,” wrote feminist scholar Elizabeth Evans. Look for it: in newspapers, magazines, and zines
BEGINNING OF A NEW WAVE? In a 2009 New York Times interview, feminist Jessica Valenti stated: “Maybe the fourth wave is online.” But some are still questioning if we’re in a fourth wave at all. With the resurgence of women’s marches following the 2016 United States presidential election, the rise of activism-oriented hashtags in the two years since, and the re-awakening of important political movements like the #MeToo movement—online, it certainly feels like we’re in a new wave of something, but it’s hard to tell just what. “I do think that [the inability to clearly define it] shows the limitations of the wave metaphor,” says Tessa Jordan, a professor from the British Columbia Institute of Technology. Look for it: online
Editor’s Note: The author has interned and currently freelances for Flare Magazine SPRING 2019 | RYERSON REVIEW OF JOURNALISM 53
“ What Journalists Don’t Talk About When Women Talk About Abortion” Why don’t newspapers and other media bring a greater focus on the lived experience? The case for more first-person abortion narratives OPINION B Y LINSEY R ASCHKOWAN January 9, 2018
My fingers feel nearly frozen from the cold outside, and my eyes are still watering from the wind before we find heat. In El Camino, a small Mexican bar in Ottawa’s ByWard Market, it’s warm enough to wear a tank top and drink margaritas on the rocks. The DJ, an old friend, is playing Biggie Smalls. “Is it okay if I order more food?” I ask my twin sister, Megan, even though we’ve both had dinner—but those churros at the next table over smell so good. “Sure, you are eating for two,” she replies with a smirk. I laugh, then silently finish my second margarita. The bartender has only salted half the rim. I don’t care—I want to make the most of my time in Ottawa before the coming school year, and tonight I deserve something light-hearted. My abortion is scheduled for 8 a.m. tomorrow.
IN 2017, the Canadian Institute for Health Information (CIHI) stated that over 94,000 abortions were reported by hospitals and clinics. But the media I consumed rarely published articles written by women for women who have had abortions. In daily news, reporters focused primarily on issues of access and the presence of antiabortionists. Of the narratives I could find, women often had vastly different experiences in which their abortions were life-altering and deeply emotional. Since my abortion, I have searched for stories like mine, personal experiences that normalize abortion from writers who feel confident and content with their decisions. I only began to find those stories in a burgeoning journalistic form: the first-person narrative. “Not everybody wants to read or hear the details of an abortion experience,” says Jessica Shaw, an assistant professor with the University of Calgary’s Faculty of Social Work. “But to see sort of a creative piece that speaks to the heart, that can be one way that we can engage with people creatively to share abortion stories.” Shaw is a fierce advocate for reproductive rights and a full-spectrum doula. She says encouraging first-person narratives on abortion has the power to change what abortion stigma looks like in Canada. Though they felt rare when I initially started my search, these more subjective but fact-driven stories offer a sense of human connection missing in daily news and opinion pieces. They’re also an important—if not the only—tool in reducing abortion stigma through journalism, providing an intimate lens onto the reproductive decisions women make.
December 29, 2017
I am crying on Megan’s old king-sized bed in our mother’s basement, and my older sister, Alyson, is looking up abortion clinics in the city. Ottawa’s Morgentaler Clinic is closed for the weekend around New Year’s Eve, and I’ll have to wait three days to schedule an appointment to terminate an unplanned pregnancy. It wasn’t so much the decision to abort that upset me, rather the lack of control over my own body. When I became sexually active, I knew pregnancy was a possibility. Should it occur, I also knew I would have an abortion—having a child wasn’t an option. And I knew Megan or Alyson would take me to the clinic based on long conversations about reproductive health growing up. So, two winters ago, when I found out I was pregnant, I felt confident in my decision. I texted a friend who had an abortion. And then I texted another. And another. “I’m with my coworker who’s had two, and she says welcome to the club!” replied my friend Maddy. I believed abortion wasn’t always something detrimental and life changing—a belief that would come and go and come again in the days to follow, encouraged and confirmed by the women in my life who had been in the same situation.
Conversations around abortion gained traction during and after
provisions prohibiting abortion unconstitutional, recognizing abortion as a part of safe health care. Thirty years later, journalism still covers the story in a more traditional and political fashion. While covering abortion politics is important, it affected my search for news articles I felt connected with. Searching for the voices of women like me, voices from one of the 35,587 women who were reported by CIHI in Ontario to have had an abortion in 2017. Instead, I found many articles written by and featuring people who seemingly had never— or could never—have had an abortion. I finally found that first story in April 2018, a BuzzFeed piece by Los Angeles-based writer Adriana Widdoes called “My abortion wasn’t like Ben Folds said it would be.” The deck reads: “Not all abortions are tragic—sometimes, like periods and the other ways we bleed, they’re just a thing that happens.” “I started to realize there’s a stigma around talking about your abortion in any way that deviates from the norm,” Widdoes tells me over the phone. “When we are allowed to talk about abortion, we talk about it in this way that it’s very traumatic and upsetting and a life-changing thing that you will regret for the rest of your life.” Following her abortion, Widdoes doesn’t write about self-torment or anguish. Instead, she writes about her joint birthday party with her best friend. “That night, I didn’t think much about my boyfriend, or even the baby that could have been,” she writes. “Instead I got drunk, because it was a party.” Throughout the phone call, Widdoes giggles. In a particularly salient moment, she recalls how she bled through a menstrual pad at a party after her abortion and told a boy she had a crush on it was chocolate cake. “My experience…was really singular and individual to me, and that doesn’t negate the experiences of women who have abortions that are super traumatic for them,” Widdoes continues. “[But] the lack of variety in the narrative that we consume about abortion, if we consume them at all, was troubling to me.” In her article, Widdoes reminds her audience that these individual experiences matter. Growing up in Northern California, Widdoes’s high school chose to play the song “Brick” by Ben Folds Five during a lesson on abortion in a freshman class. The song, released in 1997, recounts the male singer’s “emotional collapse” following his girlfriend’s abortion. We never hear how his girlfriend feels, and Widdoes wanted to flip that narrative. In her own story, she focuses on her lived experience: how life went on. She has had an abortion, and reminds her readers that it is not a shameful thing.
January 10, 2018
Alyson brings me to the clinic at eight in the morning. I am hungover. I am scared. And I feel alone. Alyson, while kind, doesn’t understand exactly what I’m going through. The main thing I’m nervous about is the physical ramifications. Is it going to hurt? How long will it last? When can I eat? Why me? I hate not knowing what to expect. My friends were supportive, but I kept feeling like they weren’t treating this like a big deal. Isn’t it supposed to be a big deal?
R. v. Morgentaler in 1988, when the Supreme Court of Canada found
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Then the waiting room begins to fill. Seven women, all in the same outfit: a long night gown brought from home and a blanket. They are young and middle-aged, some with partners, some without. I look at the woman next to me: We are wearing the same red and white socks, part of a three-pack from Costco. I wonder if she too got them as a holiday gift.
In the Fall 2018 issue of the Advocate, published by the Alberta
College of Social Workers, Jessica Shaw ruminates on how much needs to change if our media wants to be inclusive of the women who have had or will have an abortion. For Shaw, it starts with language. She no longer uses the term “pro-choice” to define her position on reproductive rights, noting that she “acknowledges and appreciates what Indigenous people, anti-poverty activists, and women of colour have been telling the rest of us for years: choices are meaningless if you don’t have the rights and resources to realize them.” Shaw also says that abortion is still “hidden under a cloak of shame.” Much of the stigma surrounding abortion, she continues, is rooted in discomfort with female sexuality and the idea that women shouldn’t be having sex outside of a marriage. When women bring forward their own experiences, it can change how abortion stigma looks. But it’s hard to combat this stigma without understanding its impact on women. That’s why first-person narratives can make such a difference. This particular form of journalism has proven useful in further understanding other human rights issues, including North America’s same-sex marriage debates and physician-assisted suicide. According to Kelly Gordon, a political science assistant professor at Montreal’s McGill University, first-person stories help bring often large-scale political issues down to the “individual level,” to see the way they affect the everyday lives of people we can relate to. Lorraine Weinrib, a professor of law from the University of Toronto, agrees. The more stories that offer a glimpse into the experience of women who have abortions, she says, the more public perception will change. But, Shaw adds, it’s often a lot to ask someone to put their face and their name to a story when they might receive backlash. In this context, more personal accounts of abortion in media is something “we need to encourage, but not demand.” In these cases, reporters and their editors might consider providing anonymity or a pseudonym to sources who don’t feel comfortable being named in fear of persecution. It’s how Shaw and Nancy Janovicek, an associate professor at the University of Calgary who specializes in gender and social history, approached a June 2018 op-ed for the Calgary Herald. The piece, which addresses abortion access issues and anti-abortion protesters, included the perspective of an anonymous woman who was intimidated by the protesters. It’s a happy medium that includes women with lived experience while also protecting them, Shaw says. Finding these voices of lived experience can often be the most difficult part of reporting on abortion, says the Ottawa Citizen’s deputy city editor Alison Mah. In April 2017, Mah penned a story on the harassment women faced when accessing the Morgentaler clinic in Ottawa. But few women with lived experience wanted to speak on
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the record. In the end, the only source willing to speak on behalf of these women was the clinic’s director of operations—an interview Mah was only able to secure through a professional connection. “If you’re not able to get first-hand accounts, get the second source… That’s really the only way I can think of getting at that,” Mah says. Another option, Mah suggests, is combing through past articles to find someone who has publicly discussed an abortion procedure, who can speak to the experience on a more general level. But then reporters run the risk of generalizing the experiences of all women who have had abortions. This can lead to the appearance of sensationalized or extreme abortion stories as the normal experience, devaluing a more mundane procedure. According to Shaw, “Journalists, and the media in general, tend to
be drawn to outlier stories; those ones that are either really exciting or really devastating.” Stories like the Vatican’s excommunication of a woman for allowing her nine-year-old to have an abortion when she was raped in 2009, or more recently, the case of the Salvadoran woman who was freed after being jailed for attempted murder following suspicions that she tried to perform an abortion on herself. “What we miss are the everyday stories, specifically around abortion, where someone becomes pregnant, they have an abortion, and it’s not a big deal.” It’s why Jessica Leeder, the Globe and Mail’s Atlantic bureau chief, chose to include her own experience in a story about the difficulties of abortion access on Canada’s East Coast last September. She says personal storytelling is the most effective way to “add a big drop to the bucket” of reporting on abortion. “I was hoping that because it’s unconventional to lay [your] personal story out there…that could draw attention to the issue,” she says. As a journalist, Leeder says it’s part of her job to know when Canadians are facing an injustice. Leeder had attempted, and subsequently succeeded, in getting an abortion in Nova Scotia. But it wasn’t easy. Most abortion clinics are hospital-based, and, for women like Leeder, they typically have to wait until between the eight- and 12-week mark of pregnancy before getting access. Leeder knew if she was going through such difficulty to have an abortion, others would be, too. What resulted was a dynamic story exploring these issues of access rooted in both reportage and Leeder’s own perspective as a woman who had an abortion. Natasha Hassan, opinion editor at the Globe and Mail and assigning editor on Leeder’s piece, thinks the story had a “far greater impact” due to Leeder’s ability to marry her lived experience with traditional reportage. “[Abortion is] one of the very important social issues that we cover, but we tend to cover it in a reported fashion,” says Hassan, “or we cover it in a sort of pure opinion fashion—a more traditional column.” Leeder’s piece for the Globe was a new form to the paper; what Hassan calls a “hybrid.” The story was ultimately successful in prompting a public policy debate in Nova Scotia about whether it was reasonable to ask someone to wait weeks to receive an abortion. In a similar fashion, Meaghan Winter, a freelance reporter, compiled 26 stories from women who underwent abortion procedures
for New York Magazine in 2013. The magazine only published the women’s first names. Cherisse from Illinois says her ultrasound technician told her if she aborted, she would never be able to have children again. Kassi from Vermont says she was sobbing before going into the waiting room, but reminds readers that “the average abortion patient is all of us.” Janet from California was raped. Yolanda from Mississippi was a mother who didn’t want another child. “In the public conversation…abortion is either a right or a sin,” Winter said during a segment on CBC’s Q, “and if you actually talk to your friends, or you talk to people about their actual lives, very few people use those words if they’re describing the day they actually went to the clinic.” If stories like these create space for women to feel safe and heard, why are they so difficult to find? Leeder thinks most Canadians assume the fight for abortion rights is already over. It’s why she felt responsible for writing about her own abortion experience. “We have to find a way to keep telling [the story],” she says. “And if we don’t tell it and it disappears from our headlines then I think we risk a regression to our access in this type of policy.” I assumed I would feel some sort of shame if I had an abortion. In actuality, I felt ashamed for not feeling that way at all; a catch-22 of emotion. It was only through conversations with—and reading about the experiences of—other women that I came to accept and embrace my own feelings about abortion. The more we talk about it, outside of the conventions of a close friendship, the more normal it becomes. And if we include and encourage these conversations in the public sphere, more women will come to embrace their own experiences, too.
January 10, 2018
At the clinic, I don’t hear talk of babies or children. The nurse who holds my hand throughout the procedure refers only to “fetal tissue.” When my sister and I leave, I notice a protestor on the sidewalk opposite me with a sign mentioning something about abortion, but rather than shame, I feel relief. And I feel hungry. I couldn’t eat for eight hours before the procedure. “I did drive directly from the OB-GYN to Boo’s in Silverlake for a cheesesteak (with American cheese) and fries after my abortion!” Widdoes writes to me the week after our phone call. As an afterthought, I had asked her what she had eaten after her procedure. She only touches on it for a moment in her piece for BuzzFeed, but I felt connected to her when she wrote of her desire to learn what Ben Folds’s girlfriend ate after hers. “Comfort food, I guess? It was a very I-don’t-give-a-fuck moment, and I felt like I deserved whatever I wanted, and what I wanted was meat and cheese and grease in all its glory,” she says. Alyson and I walk out of the clinic and into the McDonald’s located downstairs. I order, and the cashier informs me I can’t get fries yet. They are still only serving breakfast. I am, for the first time over the winter break, awake early enough for two Egg McMuffins, a hashbrown, and a coffee. I’m excited—not sad, not broken, not sick. It feels like any other day.
Abortion reporting guidelines Do’s and don’ts THERE ARE CHANGING DISCUSSIONS regarding the language journalists use when reporting on or around abortion. The following are a few guidelines to follow in order to report honest portrayals of the realities of abortion. According to the Canadian Press Stylebook, “Certain descriptives used in the abortion debate are considered loaded terms by many. While the terms pro-life and pro-choice are allowed if they are used by the person or group involved, for general references it is preferable to use specific, neutral terms such as ‘abortion rights advocates’ or ‘opponents of abortion.’” According to Alison Mah, deputy city editor for the Ottawa Citizen, the newspaper has its own style guide where anti-abortion is used over prolife. This follows the International Campaign for Women’s Right to Safe Abortion’s ‘How To Report On Abortion’ guide, published by the International Planned Parenthood Federation (IPPF) from November 2017. This guides journalists to say anti-abortion and anti-choice instead of pro-life or pro-family. The IPPF guide continues thusly: Instead of saying pro-abortion, say: Abortion rights advocates, safe abortion advocates, or pro-choice Instead of saying mother/father or parent, say: Pregnant woman, or pregnant woman’s partner/ husband Instead of saying baby or unborn baby, say: Embryo (up to 10 weeks gestation), fetus (from 10 weeks gestation to deliver), or the pregnancy Instead of saying abort/get rid of a child, or kill an unborn child, say: Terminate/end a pregnancy, or have an abortion Instead of saying the right to life of an unborn child, say: A woman’s right to life and health The guide also encourages journalists to publish personal testimonies of women who have had abortions and want to share their story ‘so others can know they are not alone’, and to not treat personal stories as representative of all experiences. —LINSEY R ASCHKOWAN
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Inclusion and Exclusion In which the issues of newsroom diversity and the questions surrounding who can report on race are explored. With no simple solutions and significant grey areas, publications struggle to satisfy the need for better representation in-house and on the page
Framing the Story Who gets to report on race? ES SAY B Y JORDAN CURRIE ILLUSTRATION BY MAT T DALEY
On the night of March 13, 2016, 21-year-old Alex
Wettlaufer was shot to death by Toronto police. The North York resident died near a ravine in Villaways Park, a short walk from his house. The Special Investigations Unit (SIU), the civilian law enforcement agency that investigates misconducts such as a police-related death or sexual assault in Ontario, launched an investigation into the shooting. The SIU sought to determine whether Wettlaufer—who was half Black—had a weapon concealed in his pocket during the confrontation, as well as the culpability of the officers involved. If Wettlaufer did have a weapon, the investigation inquired, had he used it against the police? In this case, the SIU probe could take from several months to a year. The media coverage also focused on the issue of the weapon. In the immediate aftermath, Black Lives Matter Toronto organized protests and press conferences outside Toronto police headquarters, demanding the release of the officers’ names who shot Wettlaufer (as well as for Andrew Loku, another Black man who had been shot and
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killed by police a year earlier). A few stories covered these protests. But with a much larger number of stories on the investigation, the spotlight on police behaviour dimmed. When Toronto Star crime reporter Wendy Gillis first tackled the story, she too focused on the question of the weapon, which was “at the heart of the investigation,” as she wrote in one of her stories. It was only after the story was published and a source contacted her about it that Gillis began to look at her reporting through a different lens. Seen in the broader context of crime reporting, the source felt the story fit the narrative of race-related crimes. Media accounts diving into the criminal history of victims often shift the public’s attention away from an established pattern of police brutality. This is especially true if they are people of colour. Was the victim carrying a weapon? Did they have a prior criminal history? Did anyone in their family or social circle also have a criminal history? Could the police supply a mugshot? Packaged together and published in print, online, and in broadcast, these questions, headlines, and images embed themselves in the public’s imagination, as cited in a 2017 study by Color of Change, an American nonprofit civil rights organization. By contrast, police officers involved in such incidents are bestowed anonymity. In Ontario, unless a coroner’s inquest has been conducted, the police officers’ names are not divulged. Government agencies like the SIU cite privacy legislation to maintain this tradition. “It’s so much easier to find the names of the people who are killed versus the names of the police officers who are responsible,” Gillis says, reflecting on the reporting process. “It’s kind of unfair to be reporting a lot on the victim when there’s so much secrecy around the police aspect and we cannot scrutinize [the involved officer’s] history.” She points to the potential problem in reporting, which is that a journalist can’t access the officer’s record to discover whether, for example, they have any complaints of excessive force levied against them. The keen journalist, in particular the news reporter, has an eye for detail in a fast-paced news production environment. Gillis acknowledges that—for some stories—a person’s prior criminal history can be relevant to include, such as if there is a connection to a past incident. But not always. “I think about that every time I report on these issues now,” Gillis says, thankful that her source was able to give her critical feedback. “It’s given me pause to really evaluate critically whether the information is something that readers have to have.” The classic journalistic myth of objectivity can gloss over the complex topic of implicit or “unconscious” bias and the effects of framing. “A frame is like a script that you’ve already accumulated over time,” says Yasmin Jiwani, a communication studies professor at Concordia University. Frames, she says, play on a familiar narrative that audiences recognize, thus tapping into the biases we carry. She references how news organizations covered the murder of Black teenager Trayvon Martin. Killed in Florida in 2012 by neighbourhood watch coordinator George Zimmerman, Martin underwent a posthumous
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excavation of his troubled past. Newspaper reports delved into his problems at school, and the authorities painted a picture of someone who had it coming to them. “The whole history of the representation of the criminalization of Black people is there, and that’s why the frame resonates and why the focus is not on him as a victim, but as someone who perpetrated a particular event.” Such problematic historical coverage record begs the question: Who has the authority to report on race? What insensitivities and blind spots can arise when journalists tell the stories about people of colour and cultures into which they are not immersed?
The practice of framing people of colour in a negative
or othering light is an enduring legacy of past histories. The National Geographic, for instance, had long presented African, Indigenous, and other foreign communities as “exotic” and “savage” in photographs, while mostly ignoring stories of people of colour in the United States until the 1970s. Race coverage in outlets like the New York Times— which recently acknowledged its problematic coverage of the “crack baby” myth in the 1990s—deemed poverty stricken Black mothers who smoked crack cocaine during pregnancy as overall unfit mothers. The Times acknowledged that its reporting contributed to helping authorities seize parental rights, holding children in foster care or hospitals, despite a lack of sufficient evidence that would prove any associated health defects. Today, many legacy newsrooms are seeking redress and attempting to correct the imbalance demonstrated in their coverage. Of course, confronting a problematic past is not just a U.S. problem. No community in Canada knows the impact of this better than Indigenous communities who have experienced systematic and public alienation. An examination of the press from 1869 to 2009 in Mark Cronlund Anderson and Carmen L. Robertson’s 2011 book Seeing Red: A History of Natives in Canadian Newspapers illustrates that the grouping together of Indigenous people and colonial imagery has persisted in Canadian publications and news media. The coverage of the 78-day Oka crisis in 1990 is a prime example of how Mohawk people were made to appear savage. Shaney Komulainen’s infamous photo “Face To Face”, in which a protesting Mohawk warrior appears to violently confront a cherubic Royal 22nd Regiment private, is a classic visual representation of this narrative. Devoid of historical context, publications using the photograph—and much coverage around the Oka crisis—fails to recognize the legitimate struggle of a colonized community, portraying the dispossessed as anti-state, as aggressors and violent rebels without a cause. In January 2019, Journalists for Human Rights (JHR) released Emerging Voices, the recent research project through its Indigenous Reporters Program. The report sought to examine two things. First, access to postsecondary journalism education for Indigenous youth in Ontario, and second, to determine what journalism and media programs at the post-secondary level in the province are doing to implement the Truth and Reconciliation call to action no. 86,
“ In the 1990s, during intense discourses on cultural appropriation, I used to say that non-Indigenous people should just stop writing about Indigenous Peoples. Now that I’ve seen good collaborations and respectful work, I don’t say that anymore”
which recommends journalism schools put curriculum in place on Indigenous history, terminology, and context as part of standard course offerings to ensure better reporting on Indigenous communities. “What we noticed,” says Hannah Clifford, senior program manager at JHR and the report’s editor, “is that this topic is definitely on the table. The majority of schools said yes, they’re aware of the call to action, and yes, they’re considering ways to implement curriculum. But when pushed further, some schools did make a little progress.” More stories need to be written about Indigenous communities rather than the archetypal celebration or crisis narratives included in Indigenous coverage. Clifford says it’s a promising first step for schools to be aware of the problems plaguing Indigenous coverage, but it’s only that—a first step. Cree Nation writer Gregory Younging’s opinion was that nonIndigenous people ought not to write about Indigenous topics. At the time he was managing editor of Theytus Books, an Indigenousowned publishing house located on the Penticton Indian Reserve in British Columbia. But small steps like the kind Clifford mentioned and that can be seen in more recent coverage of Indigenous communities have influenced a change in his thinking. “In the 1990s, during intense discourses on cultural appropriation, I used to say that non-Indigenous people should just stop writing about Indigenous Peoples,” the UBC professor wrote in his 2018 Elements of Indigenous Style guide. “Now that I’ve seen good collaborations and respectful work, I don’t say that anymore.”
So, whose job is it to report on race? It’s not an easy ques-
tion to answer, and part of the problem is a lack of diversity in the media industry. Because mainstream newsrooms are abundantly white, those who report on race cover communities and issues they often aren’t familiar with, resorting to the individual and systemic biases Jiwani points out. “Certainly the people I’ve talked to, all of them have presented their impression of Canadian journalism as looking quite white and quite male, especially higher up the ranks you go into leadership and management and decision making roles,” says Nicole Cohen, an assistant professor at the University of Toronto Mississauga and co-founder of the independent feminist magazine Shameless. Cohen is conducting an ongoing study about the intersections of gender, race, and class in digital based journalism and if the online realm provides more opportunities for women of colour. She has been interviewing Canadian women journalists of colour across a variety of newsrooms and platforms since 2017 to discover how valued their voices are in both the physical and digital newsrooms. In her research, Cohen asks questions like: “What does your newsroom look like?” Cohen’s research results will be useful because there isn’t enough research about the makeup of Canadian newsrooms. Still, the indicators are troubling. A 2017 J-Source survey revealed nearly 15 of 125 newspaper columnists were visible minorities and those results SPRING 2019 | RYERSON REVIEW OF JOURNALISM 61
more-or-less mirrored a previous 2014 study. When a Canadaland study seeking Canadian newsroom diversity numbers asked 18 of the country’s daily newsrooms to report their diversity numbers in 2016, only three responded. CBC revealed that in 2016, around 90 per cent of the staff who responded self-identified as white. It difficult to obtain numbers about the diversity of the internal staffing of newsrooms. Results of similar surveys could reveal about who reports on race, but they could also go a long way in helping newsrooms transform their reporting practices to be more inclusive. That, of course, is only one concern. “What people are saying,” Cohen says, referencing the feedback through her study so far, “is that Canadian media, regardless of its makeup, doesn’t do a good job of reporting on race in any meaningful way, and that if you had a more diverse workforce, you would get those kind of stories.” Last year, former RRJ editor Maria Iqbal’s feature titled “Making a Terrorist” examined the Globe and Mail’s coverage of the Toronto 18 in 2006, a terrorism investigation that resulted in the arrests of 18 Muslim people. As a Muslim woman herself, hearing about bombings and shootings on the news makes Iqbal hold her breath and keep her fingers crossed that the attack wasn’t orchestrated by a Muslim. She knows, she says, what to expect in the news if that is the case, although she also knows the media does not deliberately orchestrate a narrative. “The microphone gets pointed at the community to kind of explain what happened,” she says. “We’re put on the defence.” In her story, Iqbal recalls that in reporter Colin Freeze’s stories of the court hearings,the details were downplayed. Instead more sensational— but ultimately untrue—headlines were highlighted, such as a Globe and Mail cover page which read “STORM Parliament Hill, SEIZE the Politicians, BEHEAD the Prime Minister.” Iqbal also explored the tendency of journalists to buy into official police accounts and report on them uncritically, something Gillis also examined when she reviewed crime stories. The uncritical acceptance of the official narrative eventually reflects the reporter’s own cultural and social bias. “These frames are so entrenched in our minds that when news breaks, you’re under a lot of pressure to get a story up, so that’s not really the moment to be questioning all these stereotypes,” she says. “I think one step would be having these conversations at the very least within newsrooms at the institutional level or having discussions about what our policies are, what should our policies be, and are our policies problematic in any way?”
There is no one way to cover race. Sometimes a pub-
lication may send out a reporter to cover a story because they think they get it. That’s what happened to Aliya S. King when the Source, an American pop culture magazine, sent her to interview Dwayne Michael Carter Jr., better known as Lil Wayne, in 1999. King, a freelance journalist and author, was 27 when she shadowed the teenage rapper for one week in his hometown of Hollygrove,
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“ Black people are not a monolith. If you’re going to write about Black culture, there’s a thousand facets of it”
New Orleans. King was from East Orange in Essex County, New Jersey. Though she sat in his brand new yellow Lamborghini and the two bonded over their birthdays being one day apart, she felt completely at sea in his world. “In the projects, which is not my life, I couldn’t even understand the accent of the people in New Orleans,” she now says, “including Lil Wayne.” As a Black woman, King says she’s been lucky to have worked with predominantly Black publications, editorial teams, and readerships since 1998. Hip-hop wasn’t a beat she would ordinarily have chosen for herself. Working in a cosmopolitan city with Black people didn’t make her knowledgeable about all Black communities. “I had to pull somebody aside and say, ‘Hey, can you help me?’ It just wasn’t my thing,” King says. “It was a space I wasn’t familiar with and I had to get familiar.” The word “community” suggests similarity and togetherness. And, King says, that sometimes results in problematic assumptions. “Black people are not a monolith. If you’re going to write about Black culture, there’s a thousand facets of it.” No one is immune to blind spots, insensitivities, and/or framing issues, including people of colour. That’s why it is both tokenistic and unrealistic to expect journalists of colour to carry the weight of diversity stories on their own. It’s the realization Younging had when he accepted stories on Indigenous communities could be handled by those who were not Indigenous. To aid that process, he developed a style guide. When Iqbal worked on her examination of the Toronto 18 coverage, she was attentive to her own cultural and political biases, even on her own culture. “Journalists are not separate from society,” Jiwani says. “They’re not a breed cultivated on another planet. They’re here, they’re part of our society, so they imbibe a lot of the currents that are there in our society. Individual biases don’t just come from anywhere.” Duncan McCue, adjunct professor of journalism at the University of British Columbia and Ryerson University visiting journalist, has spent a lot of time thinking about how to answer the question: Who gets to report on race. The Anishinaabe journalist created the Aboriginal Customs and Protocols for Reporting in Indigenous Communities, an online resource for non-Indigenous journalists to learn how to properly cover Indigenous stories, which launched in 2011. The guide covers an array of topics, from participating in ceremonies to giving and receiving gifts to death and more. “There’s no question that Indigenous issues are underreported,” he says. “And the only way that’s going to change is if the decision makers in newsrooms start making the covering of them a priority rather than paying it lip service.” That conversation is happening inside traditional newsrooms too in an effort to address and rectify past coverage. Last year, National Geographic’s editor-in-chief, Susan Goldberg—the first woman and first Jewish person to take that mantle—delved into the magazine’s racist past in her inaugural issue as chief, acknowledging the stereotypes the publication has perpetuated and promising to do better in the future. “For us, this issue also provided an important oppor-
tunity to look at our own efforts to illuminate the human journey, a core part of our mission for 130 years,” Goldberg wrote. “I want a future editor of National Geographic to look back at our coverage with pride—not only about the stories we decided to tell and how we told them but about the diverse group of writers, editors, and photographers behind the work.” At the tail end of 2018, the the New York Times’ editorial called “Slandering the Unborn” confronted its failure to report accurately on the crack-baby myth. Today, the New York Times’ weekly newsletter Race/Related delivers stories on race, identity and culture. Unencumbered by the legacy, the Discourse, a Canadian digital news outlet, has created Toward Reconciliation, a project centered on covering how effectively Canada is responding to The Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s calls to action, a blueprint to rectify Canada’s history with residential schools and other Indigenous topics. the Globe and Mail uncovered the systemic racism at the police force in Thunder Bay in December 2018 involving the cases of the nine deaths of Indigenous victims, topics that are also covered in Canadaland’s Thunder Bay podcast. While rectifying the historical record is a work in progress, these are all steps in the right direction. New groups like Canadian Journalists of Colour, a network of Black/ Indigenous/People of Colour (BIPOC) journalists which has chapters in Toronto, Vancouver, Edmonton, and Montreal are designed to create a safe space for journalists of colour to have conversations without always having to include white journalists, who have a much easier time getting their voices and ideas heard. McCue emphasizes that non-Indigenous journalists, and white journalists should be encouraged to cover the gaps in reporting. “In a country as diverse as Canada, they will report on racial issues,” he says. “So the question is, how do we provide reporters the tools that they need to report on quote racial issues properly, accurately, and with respect?”
When the SIU completed
its investigation into the Wettlaufer case in 2017, it concluded that Wettlaufer had been carrying a BB gun at the time of the shooting. Wettlaufer never fired a weapon, but officers at the scene alleged he was goading them into shooting him. According to a SIU report published on May 16, 2017, the officers further alleged Wettlaufer “reasserted his desire to be killed.” The report concluded that charges against the officers were unwarranted. But, with Wettlaufer dead and no eye witnesses of the shooting, there remained only version of the official account. “Ultimately if I’m concerned about a story, I just ask myself, ‘Is this fair? Have I come to the people who were most affected?” says Gillis, who always thinks back to the Wettlaufer story when covering fatal police interactions. “Have I done everything I can to answer questions that readers naturally have?” The question of who has the authority to report on issues involving race may differ in every situation, and getting the balance right is tricky. But it’s not impossible. SPRING 2019 | RYERSON REVIEW OF JOURNALISM 63
Inclusion and Exclusion
Diversity-in-Progress How is the drive to build more inclusive, multilingual newsrooms coming along? A report from the inside B Y BRYAN MELER ILLUSTRATION BY MAT T DALEY
On a sunny afternoon last April,
Alek Minassian, according to Toronto Police, went on an alleged murderous rampage with a rented white van. Beginning at Yonge Street and Finch Avenue, police say that Minassian drove the van onto the sidewalk and began bulldozing through pedestrians on his way south. One onlooker told the Toronto Star Minassian was “zigging and zagging,” and that “people started flying into the air.” Minassian, 25, identified himself as an incel, or “involuntary celibate,” and asserted on Facebook that the “Incel rebellion has already begun!” Minassian was charged with 10 counts of first-degree murder and 16 counts of attempted murder, while his trial is set to February 2020. Of the victims, three were South Korean. In Toronto, Koreans make up 1.5 percent of the population, according to Statistics Canada’s 2016 census numbers. In the Willowdale area, where the attack took place between Finch and Sheppard Avenues, the population of Koreans rises to 10.4 percent. Among the dead were 22-year-old So He Chung, a student at the University of Toronto; 22-year-old Ji Hun Kim, an international student at Seneca College; and Chul Min Kang, a 45-year-old steakhouse chef. As Toronto Star reporters rushed to put together profiles of the victims, Evelyn Kwong, a Star digital producer, turned to a Facebook post from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Republic of Korea page. The statement, however, was only available in Korean and there
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wasn’t anyone employed in the newsroom who was fluent in the language. Kwong decided to phone a friend of Korean descent whose mother was able to translate the post quickly. It stated that at least two victims were of Korean descent, information that was inserted into the paper’s original breaking news story, which had 19 different bylines by its final update. The information also allowed the Star to be the first news publication to report that there were Korean victims, says Kwong, while helping them narrow down their own search. The information proved pivotal when the Star released an article two days later with all the names of the victims along with short obituaries. Through her network of connections, social media tools, as well as her knowledge of the Korean community, Kwong had filled a key newsroom gap during one of the biggest stories of the year, allowing the Star to accurately and thoroughly report on the tragedy. “We were lucky,” says Kwong. Journalists’ inability to understand and speak directly to all the communities they cover is a sign that there remains plenty of work to be done in building newsrooms with greater racial, cultural, and linguistic diversity. Still, following years and years of paying lip service to the importance of diversity, journalistic outlets in Canada are making progress because they now understand its importance. “Knowing the same language as the community, it provides a safe space for them to express themselves,” Kwong says. “They know that they’ll be understood.” However, changing up established practices is never easy. Bringing greater diversity to our newsrooms is still a work in progress—one with a multitude of frustrations, barriers, and setbacks, but has had some welcome successes.
More than 200 languages are currently spoken
in Canada. In 1996, there were 4.7 million people who reported a mother tongue other than English or French, a number that rose to 7.7 million in 2016, according to Statistics Canada. The country’s foreign-born population has also increased. Data gathered in 1991 show Canada’s foreign-born population stood at 16.1 percent. Every time since Statistics Canada has collected this data, the number has gone up. The percentage reached 21.9 in 2016. As newsroom staffers have dwindled (a decline of seven percent between 2001 and 2016, according to Statistics Canada, while the labour force has risen by 18 percent), Canada has become increasingly racially and ethnically diverse—making it both more vital and more difficult for reporters to fairly, accurately, and quickly report stories that involve diverse communities and languages. The first conversations about racial and ethnic diversity in newsrooms started in the late 1980s, says John Miller, a former chair of Ryerson University’s School of Journalism. It wasn’t until his report for the Canadian Daily Newspaper Association (CDNA) on newsroom diversity in 1994, which revealed that only 2.6 percent of the
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“ It can be very difficult to increase diversity in the workplace in these economic conditions”
2,620 news professionals surveyed identified as non-white, that newsrooms were confronted. “It was met with hostility,” Miller says, who followed up his survey independently in 2004. While the second survey showed slight improvements, Miller says it was nothing compared to the increase in diversity among Canada’s population. Canadaland tried to follow up on Miller’s survey in 2016, asking 18 of Canada’s top newsrooms to provide their diversity numbers. Only three complied, including the Star. But the individual numbers weren’t released because of Canadaland’s promise “that the results would be kept confidential and data would be presented as an aggregate across many papers.” However, the Star’s editor-in-chief, Irene Gentle, told J-Source in 2018 that 11 percent of employees, through their union, had self-identified as coming from a diverse background—though, this figure doesn’t include the Star’s Radio Room, helmed primarily by students, which Gentle estimated to be “in the 40 percent range” of people from diverse backgrounds. Newsrooms that are privately owned are not required to make their diversity numbers public. But that’s not the case for CBC, which has to provide yearly updates under the 1991 Broadcasting Act. In 2016, Canadaland reported close to 90 percent of CBC’s staff were white. The outlet discovered this figure only after filing an Access to Information request, which revealed only 453 CBC employees self-identified as a person of colour (in 2015, CBC reported it had 7,440 employees). Since then, CBC has said 27.8 percent of its new hires between 2017 and 2018 were from a diverse background, being “Indigenous and Inuit peoples, persons with disabilities, and visible minorities.” A portion of CBC’s government funding, however, is designated to help promote increased diversity in the workforce (and in programing). By contrast, the budgets for private sector newsrooms are generally tighter and more vulnerable when ad revenues, as they so often do, decline. Miller says that when organizations in the private sector do work to create change by hiring more people with diverse backgrounds, their new hires are vulnerable to the fact that, like
everywhere else, “The last ones in are usually the first ones out.” In 2018, due to decreasing revenues, the Star chose to cut its reporter internship program and set up a paywall. Nicholas Keung, the Star’s immigration reporter, points out that it costs publications more money and resources to develop and maintain a diverse workforce. “When a publication’s interest is on survival mode, the bottom line is how to enlarge the readership,” he says. Gentle echoes the same sentiments, writing in an email that “a consequence of the general lack of diversity in the industry can be found in the stories we don’t have as much or more than those we have. The stories that are missing in part or wholly due to the lack of diversity in the industry in general is something I think is a concern for all of us as people, and part of the overall community... “It can be very difficult to increase diversity in the workplace in [these economic] conditions.”
Beyond language skills, sending a reporter from a
similar cultural background to the people in the story can build trust in sources. Fatima Syed, an investigative reporter for the National Observer, grew up in Pakistan and speaks Urdu fluently. When she goes door to door as a reporter and knows that someone is Muslim, she’ll greet that person by saying, “As-salamu alaykum,” a Muslim salutation that means, “Peace be upon you.” Syed’s ability to understand and relate to non-western cultures has helped in her reporting, such as when she wrote a piece for the Star where she interviewed the family of an Afghan-Canadian person from Whitby, Ontario who died in a Canadian prison in 2016 under still mysterious circumstances. When Syed visited the family, who spoke Farsi and some Urdu, she was taken to the son’s grave where she covered her head with a scarf as a sign of respect in accordance to Muslim tradition. “The mother hugged me at the end,” Syed says. “I was respectful… which meant a lot to them in that difficult time.” When diverse perspectives are reflected in the news, the audiences associated with that media tend to grow, says Nick Davis, the director of development at CBC Radio. He was personally involved in the transformation of CBC Radio One’s flagship weekday morning program, Metro Morning, which was not the top listened–to show in Toronto as of 2001 when program manager Susan Marjetti joined. Davis, then an associate producer, told Marjetti that “it didn’t feel like we were representing Toronto’s voice.” Davis brought up that he felt the show didn’t reflect that Toronto was one of the most multicultural cities in the world, especially the diversity of the staff. If CBC wanted to improve, it needed a change. One of the first steps was to hire Chinese-Canadian reporter Lu Zhou who would keep tabs on the Chinese language newspapers in Toronto. A year later, Zhou’s ability to speak Mandarin was crucial when CBC covered the kidnapping and murder of Cecilia Zhang, the nine-year-old daughter of new Canadians from China. To secure an interview, Zhou left the parents a message through a member of
their community, asking if she could speak with them. They soon agreed, but with one stipulation: the interview had to be done in Mandarin. “I think that was the best decision they ever made,” Zhou says. “Instead of worrying about the right words to use, they were able to just communicate with me while they were going through tremendous stress. I’m someone who can understand the nuance, their impressions, their thoughts, their ideas.” After interviewing Zhang’s parents in Mandarin, Zhou put together a tape talk with Mandarin clips and English translations for radio broadcast. In both cases, Davis says it was the sadness in Zhang’s mother’s voice that grabbed listeners. Davis credits stories like Zhou’s for helping Metro Morning become the top-rated morning show in Toronto. The first time they received that honour was in December 2003, one they also currently hold, according to the latest Toronto 2018 Fall PPM (Portable People Meter) Ratings. Journalist Karen K. Ho, who recently wrote a cover story for Time magazine about the blockbuster film Crazy Rich Asians, says she wants to know that Chinese-Canadians are being represented in media before she subscribes to any given publication. “You should be telling me why I should pay [for content],” Ho says. “Do you reflect the city I grew up in?” Ho also says that sharing newsroom demographics is a vital step towards showing readers they’re being represented through the publication’s voice. Ideally, she says, newsroom demographics would show a balance in ethnic backgrounds and age as Canadian media tries to shed its label of being filled with “old white men.” In 2016, Statistics Canada showed that in Toronto’s metropolitan area, over 50 percent of people aged 15 to 34 identify as being part of a visible minority. Courting these demographics could refresh newspaper and magazine readership.
While there’s been a push
to promote women to leaderships positions, “We’ve gone from white men to white women,” says Shree Paradkar, race and gender columnist at the Star, which in 2018 hired its first female editor-in-chief (EIC) with Gentle. But there are exceptions, such as Andree Lau, the editor-in-chief of HuffPost Canada. Lau, who is Chinese-Canadian, says that while it’s important to promote people of colour into leadership positions, it’s equally important to make sure they’re given the proper resources to make a difference. It’s what’s made HuffPost Canada—an exception when it comes to diverse leadership—successful in its hiring. Kenny Yum, now the chief of staff at CBC News, previously held the position of editor-in-chief while Lau was the managing editor of news. Above Yum was another person of colour, Rashida Jeeva, who, as general manager of HuffPost Canada, hired Yum to lead operations. The makeup of their staff allowed Lau to make key decisions about allocating funds for projects to cover under–reported communities, as well as guiding editorial decisions while giving management the space and opportunity to hire the right personnel. “We want to be hiring people from all different walks of life,” Lau says, who speaks SPRING 2019 | RYERSON REVIEW OF JOURNALISM 67
Cantonese, which she learned from her parents and Cantonese language classes. “It doesn’t give me an upper hand as a reporter, but as a person,” Lau says. “Our job is based around speaking to people. If you can’t speak someone’s language, how else are you supposed to communicate with them?” Mohamed Omar, a reporter and producer at HuffPost Canada, says the publication’s management has provided him with a “different feeling” since he’s entered its newsroom. “It’s not just one desk where there’s diversity,” Omar says. “Even when there are white dudes who are reporting, they’re still in that environment where diversity is being pushed…where it’s being considered.” Omar’s ability to speak Arabic, having grown up in the Middle East, was pivotal during the Quebec mosque shooting in January 2017. As a result, HuffPost Canada was able to release an accurate article following the shooting, citing a live video in which bystanders responded to the tragedy as it was unfolding. Omar’s translation allowed Lau to quickly publish a timely article to the website. Davis, who was a member of CBC’s Inclusion and Diversity Committee in 2018, says it’s important to have a diverse range of people among top decision makers because it’s ultimately executive producers who choose who and what gets on air. One such decision CBC has made is to prioritize advancing Indigenous voices. When CBC Indigenous was launched five years ago, says Duncan McCue, a visiting journalist at the Ryerson School of Journalism and correspondent for the National who identifies as Anishinaabe, it started with a staff of two. It has since expanded to 10 employees. Another major effort by CBC is to promote more Indigenous languages on the air, such as in Inuktitut. “Our language is an important part of who we are,” McCue says, who just started learning Anishinaabemowin. Despite the strides news organizations have made, staffers who check diversity boxes don’t always have their insights valued. In a recent case, reporter Sunny Dhillon resigned from the Globe and Mail in October after his editor pressured him to shift the focus of his Vancouver election coverage. Though the city had voted in a “nearly all-white council,” he wrote on a Medium blog post. “The bureau chief soon walked over to my desk with a message: I was to focus less on the issue of race and to focus more on the fact eight of the 10 elected councillors were women.” Both Dhillon and multiple editors at the Globe, such as editor-in-chief David Walmsley, did not respond to repeated requests for comment. Kwong has been at the Star for three years and says newsrooms generally see the most diversity in their entry-level positions, such as in the Radio Room. In her job as a digital producer, Kwong’s responsibilities involve maintaining the website and social media platforms. “There are missed opportunities where I see a story that I think
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“ Knowing the same language as the community, it provides a safe space for them to express themselves...They know that they’ll be understood”
deserves to be reported on” she says. “But I’m at the desk, so I can’t.” Kwong had been pitching a story to her editors for months about the Chinese elders who pick up cans in Toronto’s Trinity Bellwoods area. When the Globe scooped her with an article by a white writer with the assistance of a translator, Kwong was irritated. “It was a great story,” she says. “I could have played both roles.” Ho emphasizes that newsrooms need to recognize the particular skills multilingual reporters and reporters of colour bring to newsrooms. These skills, she says, shouldn’t be taken for granted. Those who can translate or speak multiple languages should be recognized and compensated for their work. Ho echoes Kwong, asserting that publications lose out on writers and stories when they fail to recognize their reporters’ skills. Ho experienced this firsthand when she wrote about Crazy Rich Asians for Time. “I have never been published in Maclean’s or the Walrus’s print edition, but [now] I have a cover story in Time,” Ho says, “That doesn’t make any sense.” She speaks English, Cantonese, and some Mandarin, three of the many languages spoken in the film.
For many journalists of colour in Canada, find-
ing opportunities can be few and far between, especially if they’d like to be assigned stories that aren’t directly related to their own backgrounds. “There’s this feeling of being trapped in a box that I’ve heard journalists of colour refer to,” says Jackie Hong, who never used her ability to speak Cantonese during her almost three years as a reporter at the Star or her year and a half at the Yukon News,
where she relocated to find a longer-term, more permanent role. Hong’s focus is on crime and court reporting rather than equity and race issues. She says journalists who are visible minorities are often encouraged to write on their own experiences and focus on the communities they’re part of, rather than their own personal interests. “I never wanted to be that Chinese person who was the Chinese reporter covering the Chinese community,” Hong says. Being limited to covering one’s own ethnicity was also a concern for Keung, who says he declined the Star’s offer to have him develop a Chinese beat in 2013. “I did not want to be pigeonholed,” he says. Later, Keung convinced his editors to establish an immigration beat. Many stories that affect Chinese-Canadians—like sponsoring grandparents to come to Canada—are stories that affect many immigrant families. “We should be bringing [communities] together, not compartmentalizing them,” Keung says. McCue recalls raising concerns about “being the token Indian” when he was first interviewed for a TV reporter position at CBC Vancouver in 1998. That concern soon went away, McCue says, when he realized there were a plethora of stories about Indigenous communities that needed to be covered. Rather than being worried about tokenism, he pushed back against a disinterest in reporting on Indigenous stories. But as the host of CBC’s open line radio program Cross Country Checkup, McCue values the ability to cover a wide variety of topics. “I’d like to report on Indigenous issues as much as I would like to talk about hockey,” he says. Lau laughs about the many times she has been asked to cover Chinese New Year throughout her career, especially when she first started as a reporter in Ottawa. Young reporters of colour, Lau says, need to put additional effort into managing and directing their own careers. For their editors, their ethnicity “colours the expectation” of what they’ll be able to report and write. If a newsroom only has one Chinese reporter or one Arabic reporter, the tendency to narrow the reporter’s focus becomes even more likely. When reporters of colour do report on their own communities, they can face additional public pressures. When Kwong reports on the Chinese community, for example, she makes sure to run her article by a person with a different point of view—including, ultimately, someone who isn’t part of the Chinese community. “I want to know if I hit the mark, if my own views or emotions didn’t get in the way,” says Kwong. Jaren Kerr, a Black reporter and deputy news editor at Canadaland, says his race becomes especially important for him when reporting in Black neighborhoods. “A lot of people are concerned,” he says. “How is this stranger going to portray my community?” Journalists who have a stake in covering a community beyond its tragedies, Kerr says, are better able to foster trusting relationships with their sources. Davis says CBC’s connections to Black communities over the years were essential in the making of its online longform piece, “After the Bullet,” which was published in October. The piece explores what it means to survive being shot as a Black person
in Toronto. Many victims are left without access to post-trauma therapy and struggle to afford it on their own, running up against stigmas and the misconception that every Black person who has been shot is part of a gang. “If we didn’t have good relationships, that story would have never happened,” Davis says. “Instead of just looking at police [records], we were able to get an inside look at the impact it’s had on their lives.”
When newsrooms aren’t connected with
communities, reporters are faced with a disadvantage, Kerr says, who held one of the 19 bylines on the coverage of Minassian’s van attack. Despite living in Koreatown for just under a year, Kerr wasn’t deeply connected to the community. Reporting at various vigils and hospitals, he had to work himself up to asking van attack victims, witnesses, friends, and families if they were Korean. Growing up, he and his Black friends hated to be asked, “Are you Jamaican?” Kerr felt uncomfortable imposing a similar assumption about sources’ backgrounds, and he didn’t want people to think that their connection to the story didn’t matter as much if they weren’t Korean. Monica Chi, the executive director of family and social services at the Korean Canadian Women’s Association (KCWA), a non-profit organization that provides services to Toronto’s Korean community, says Kerr did a good job of portraying the Korean community’s feelings. But she did have one criticism. As an outsider, she says, Kerr wasn’t able to pinpoint the true leaders of the community. Kerr did speak with Shine Jiyoun Chung, who held an executive position at KCWA during the time of the van attack. One of the groups Chi says she wishes had been represented was the Hanca Senior Association, but many of those seniors aren’t comfortable expressing themselves in English, which would have posed a problem for Kerr. Despite Chi’s criticism, Kerr’s reporting played a role in helping the Star secure a nomination for a 2018 Online Journalism Award for its coverage. Chi says she preferred the Star’s reporting over the Toronto-run Korean Times since the Star’s resources allowed it to offer more up–to–date information. However, she believes that on the whole, Korean-Canadians don’t see themselves adequately represented in mainstream media.
While Canadian newsrooms are slowly but surely
making headway in improving diversity, the path to full inclusion will be long and winding, a journey made more challenging in that the demographics of the population will change. By 2031, according to Statistics Canada, we can expect that 29 to 32 percent of Canada’s population will speak a native language other than English or French, while the country’s foreign-born population will be expected to reach between 25 to 28 percent, which would be Canada’s highest since Confederation. Newsrooms better get ready. SPRING 2019 | RYERSON REVIEW OF JOURNALISM 69
Inuit man with a kayak, 1854
Hidden History Voices lost in time are found in a new form B Y MADELINE CORNACCHIA
In Inuit culture,
Inuk children are often named after a respected community member or relative who has recently died so that their spirit may live on. Once an Inuit child has a name, they have a soul. Traditionally, Inuit families did not share a surname since families were not divided like they are in the South. As nomads in Canada’s North, migrating season to season alongside walrus and caribou, these families did not have a home address, either. The Inuit lifestyle predated the Confederation of Canada by hundreds of years, but Canada didn’t understand it. In the early 1940s, the federal government began to issue disc numbers known as E-tags (E stood for Eskimo) to Inuit people. Each Inuk was to wear a six-digit number in the form of a tag, like a dog wears a collar, with the number identifying the area, district, community, and family of the individual. Officials had neglected to learn the spelling and pronunciation of each person’s name, complaining that different versions of the same name were too confusing. Tracking was complicated further by the lack of fixed addresses and
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IMAGE: COURTESY WIKIMEDIA COMMONS
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surnames. In a culture where names held such deep significance, identities were thus reduced to a dehumanizing six digits. No other children in Canada had to respond to a number during roll call, according to journalist Valerie Alia in her 1998 book Names, Numbers, and Northern Policy: Inuit, Project Surname, and the Politics of Identity. It wasn’t until 1969 that the government proposed Project Surname, an effort to consult with the Inuit people to ascertain and standardize the spelling of their names. If you didn’t know much (or any) of this information, it’s probably because it is not widely included in Canada’s historical narrative. The four regions of the North—Inuvialuit, Nunavik, Nunatsiavut, and Nunavut—make up 35 percent of Canada’s landmass and 50 percent of its shoreline, but they are the part of the country Canadians know least about, according to Falen Johnson. She is one of two hosts and creators of The Secret Life of Canada, a podcast detailing Canada’s under-told histories. Johnson, who is Mohawk and Tuscarora from
“ It’s not a well-known piece of Canadian history, because what’s the better narrative: True North strong and free, or True North strong and slavery before we were free?” Six Nations, and her co-host, Leah-Simone Bowen, a first-generation Canadian of Barbadian descent, address Canada’s often troubling, little known past in their makeshift recording studio made out of six blankets draped over two lamps and a divider screen. “You know more about Britney Spears and Justin Timberlake’s relationship than you do about Canada’s North,” Johnson teases Bowen on the podcast’s seventh episode, “The Secret Life of the North.” The same could likely be said of many other Canadians. Johnson recalls feeling “kind of in pieces” on the day the seventh episode was recorded, just two days after the Tina Fontaine verdict on February 22, 2018. Fontaine was a 15-year-old girl from Sagkeeng First Nation in northern Winnipeg, who went missing in 2014. Her body was pulled from Winnipeg’s Red River wrapped in a duvet cover and weighted down with rocks. Hers was a prominent case in which the jury found the accused, Raymond Cormier, not guilty. Fontaine’s death sparked a number of rallies and vigils and provoked a national inquiry into the cases of Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls (MMIWG) throughout the country. Johnson was a day late with the podcast script because she was attending one of these rallies. With both the Colten Boushie murder trial and the Fontaine verdict occurring just weeks apart, she felt conflicted writing about the history of the North—E-tags, dog slaughter-
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ing, forced relocation—when Indigenous people were continuing to be targeted. “It’s impossible to not draw the parallels between what’s happened in history and what’s happening now, and how things have changed but not really,” Johnson explains. “It’s the same body. It just has a different face.” While Canada often promotes itself as a multicultural mecca, communities like those of the Indigenous peoples have had few mainstream platforms to tell their stories. The federal government’s duty to consult Indigenous peoples does not apply to drafting laws, MPs high-five after voting against Indigenous rights, and many Indigenous communities still do not have safe drinking water. Nonwhite histories have not only been ignored, they have not properly been taught. Marginalized communities have had to work to heal from damaging, overlooked pasts left in the dark. “When we put any kind of racialized or minority group in a position of visibility in the media, that’s important,” says Katie Jensen, the producer of The Secret Life of Canada. “I think that if we’re going to complain about the media landscape in Canada not reflecting its constituents, [then] we have to put changes like this in place and take a chance on new voices.” Enter The Secret Life of Canada’s Bowen and Johnson, two performers and playwrights putting forgotten Canadian history centre stage.
The Secret Life of Canada was born the year of the country’s 150th anniversary. It came out of a pay-what-you-can podcasting workshop hosted by Jensen in 2017 amidst the government encouraging Canadians to celebrate Confederation across the country. Johnson recalls Canada 150 as an outdated montage of stereotypes including mountains, lakes, canoes, and an Indigenous man in full regalia holding an eagle. “But I also think that Canada 150 came with a curiosity,” she says. “There seemed to be people who were willing to accept that Canada wasn’t this picture-perfect place that had been presented to us.” For many, the anniversary was a reminder that the country was built on stolen land and fractured Indigenous nations. “When does a country become a country? When someone signs a paper, or when people are inhabiting that place?” Johnson asks, while Bowen adds, “Or do you want to argue [it was] when everybody got the vote? ’Cause that was in the 1960s.” Because of their background in playwriting, the hosts noticed it had a selective narrative when doing their extensive research on Canadian history. But history is not made up of isolated events. It is all connected. In order to celebrate the great parts of this country, Canada also has to recognize and reconcile the bad. Jensen was drawn to their podcast idea because she shared the feeling that Canada 150 should have been more balanced. She was refreshed to see The Secret Life of Canada address the country’s history in a way that was not entirely celebratory but did not slander the country either. The trio were able to create the podcast under their “ramshackle blanket fort” in Bowen’s Toronto home with the support of Passport 2017, an app and website that highlighted all events relating to Canada 150. The first season premiered on August 31, 2017, and a year later, The Secret Life of Canada was acquired by CBC Podcasts, allowing Jensen, Bowen, and Johnson to knock down their
Routes of the Underground Railroad, 1830-1865
fort and move into a professional production studio for its second season. The podcast helps push forward CBC’s mandate in that it is distinctly Canadian, and it contributes to “shared national consciousness and identity” and “the exchange of cultural expression.” Johnson and Bowen expected the production process to change significantly after joining CBC, but the corporation remained handsoff. Bowen thinks this is because CBC Radio’s podcast department understands the importance of authenticity of voice in connecting to audiences. When podcasts are too staged or over rehearsed, she says, there is a disconnect with the listeners. Jensen hopes that having a bigger platform will help the podcast reach more rural audiences whose stories aren’t always reflected in metropolitan-centred media. Podcasts have steadily become more popular in Canada with more than 10 million people listening in 2018, according to the second ever Canadian podcast study, conducted by Ulster Media and Audience Insights Inc. The demographic is made up of mostly men between the ages of 18 and 35, with more listeners having a university degree and a higher income. Jeff Ulster, owner of Ulster Media, says there is an overlap between podcast listeners and early technology adopters, which tends to skew slightly younger and more educated. The hardest part of being a podcaster is developing an audience large enough to sustain your show. “There are lots of marginalized stories and lots of people who are maybe not as easily accessed through mainstream media,” Ulster explains. The challenge, he says, “is you IMAGE: COURTESY WIKIMEDIA COMMONS
have to go out and find them.” While there are over 550,000 shows on Apple Podcasts, marginalized voices might be harder to find if they are not among the top rated. Moreover, Ulster says that storytellers might not even be aware that their stories can be told through podcasting. That is where pay-what-you-can workshops like Jensen’s can help. As of March 2019, The Secret Life of Canada has detailed 15 underreported stories and profiled over 17 notable Canadians, such as Fred Sasakamoose, the first Indigenous player in the NHL, and Eleanor Collins, who became the first Black host of a nationally broadcast TV show in North America in 1995. Their 30 to 50-minute episodes have covered everything from the fact that Banff was built by Eastern European prisoners of war to the fact that there were Black slaves on this land for approximately 200 years before the Underground Railroad was established. “It’s not a well-known piece of Canadian history because what’s the better narrative: True North strong and free, or True North strong and slavery before we were free?” Bowen says in the episode titled “The Secret Life of Birchtown.” Charmaine Nelson, an art history professor at McGill University, says in the episode, “The important thing to realize, too, about why we are taught the Underground Railroad is because it feeds directly into this notion that Canada is a nicer, gentler, racially tolerant, or racially blind society. And that’s our myth.” Nelson explains in the “Birchtown” episode that the collective acceptance of this myth did not occur by SPRING 2019 | RYERSON REVIEW OF JOURNALISM 73
accident. It is perpetrated through the writing of selective histories and through choosing to exclude unfavourable histories from the public narrative.
of history has to be shown, because we have some really ugly things that happened in this country.”
Niigaan Sinclair, city columnist for the Winnipeg Free
“Before the white man came to Canada, Indians ran around without their clothes on,” Johnson’s fifth grade class was told by a substitute teacher on the first day of their “Native Studies” unit. Johnson attended school in Brantford, Ont., and was not the only Indigenous student in the classroom, but she remembers being the only one visibly surprised at the statement. The other students remained blank-faced and did not question the teacher. Johnson wondered if they all knew something she did not. Later that day, she sought an explanation from her dad. He assured her it wasn’t true. Though education has progressed since her elementary school days in the early ’90s, Johnson worries that experiences like hers continue to this day. Bowen also faced knowledge deficits in school when it came to studying non-white history. “Either you’re not learning anything about yourself or your community,” she says, “or you’re learning incorrect things that you know not to be true.” All of the information Johnson and her co-host have shared on The Secret Life of Canada came from research they conducted post-graduation. Bowen doesn’t regret doing the work, but she wishes students could learn in their history classes about more than just the Confederation, the War of 1812, and a few prime ministers. “If you don’t even see yourself visible in the country in the past, you can’t really envision what your future’s going to look like and it makes you feel really disconnected.” Some efforts have been made to create a more enriched and mandatory Indigenous curriculum in response to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s (TRC) call to action. This includes the introduction of tools like the Indigenous Peoples Atlas of Canada in 2018, but Ontario’s elementary school curriculum still lacks the resources to properly teach Indigenous content in the updated curriculum. The Secret Life of Canada is being used by some teachers as a tool to help fill in the lacunae in outdated history textbooks. Cara McCrae, an elementary school teacher in London, Ont., played several episodes last year for her Grade 6 students, who live about an hour away from Ipperwash Beach. She played the “Secret Life of Ipperwash” episode, knowing it is a popular vacation spot among her students. The episode tells the story of how Indigenous people were forcefully relocated from the land in order to create cottage country, a national park and a military base. McCrae says her students are starting to look at things differently. Though the curriculum has been updated to include more Indigenous content, McCrae does not feel properly equipped to teach it, which is why she has turned to Bowen and Johnson. “I can say that these horrible things happened, but unless there’s something that backs me up, like a textbook or an article or a podcast, I don’t have a lot of credibility,” she says. “And I think that that other side
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From left: Hosts Falen Johnson and Leah Simone Bowen scour the archives
PHOTO: EVAN AAGAARD / CB C
Press, remembers standing alongside his father, Chief Commissioner of the TRC, Justice Murray Sinclair, at a TRC event in Ottawa. As a family, they watched Prime Minister Justin Trudeau (then Liberal leader) participate in a smudging ceremony. He wondered if Trudeau really understood the meaning of smudging. “If you smudge, you would never commit to a pipeline, because what you’re saying is the Earth has value, has power, has strength, and the Earth is a part of me,” he says. “And I don’t know how you reconcile that with pipelines.” The same disconnect applies to Canada’s support of the United Nations Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) while preserving the Indian Act. “It’s impossible to have those two things,” Sinclair says. “They are completely irreconcilable.” Canadians do not fully understand the breadth of UNDRIP, according to Sinclair. The document was adopted into the United Nations in 2007, detailing the distinct rights of Indigenous peoples all over the world, including the right to not be forced into assimilation or removal from their land. It addresses Indigenous equality in everything from identity to health to education. The motion had 144 countries vote in favour of adoption while four countries voted against it. Canada was one of those four. It took nine years for Canada to become a supporter of UNDRIP in response to the TRC’s calls to action. Committing to improving Canada’s relationships with Indigenous people is one thing, but it is another thing to truly appreciate why it is necessary. During Idle No More, a movement that started in 2012 to honour Indigenous sovereignty and protect the environment, Sinclair received phone call after phone call from journalists asking him to explain parts of Indigenous history to them, such as the Indian Act, legacies of residential schools, and Section 35 of the Constitution. “I was doing the work of journalists,” he says. “I can tell you my opinion on the current issue, but my job is not to educate you.” He feels that reporters are confident covering major national news, but there is a level of inadequacy when it comes to Indigenous issues. “Mandatory classes [are] what’s been mandated for teachers and for social workers and for nurses and for doctors,” he explains. “It seems to me there is a demand for competency among journalists.” While Sinclair is Anishinaabe himself and has taught Indigenous Studies at the University of Manitoba for years, he does not consider himself to be a spokesperson. There are hundreds of sovereign Indigenous nations in Canada, each with different cultures, languages, and traditions that differentiate them. These very different groups are often mixed up or lumped together, which is only exacerbated by relying on one Indigenous representative. As a featured voice on national and international media such as the Guardian, the Winnipeg Free Press, and the Ottawa Citizen, Sinclair has noticed that when he’s invited to address Indigenous issues as a guest, media organizations will also often bring on someone with a racist counterargument. “What I argue, without fail, is that Indigenous peoples are human beings,” he says. “And that when they
commit to a treaty or they commit to a relationship with bears or water or the sun, that relationship has value.” In Sinclair’s experience, the debate then diverts from the issue at hand to racism and he is left to defend Indigenous humanity. He adds that it is the responsibility of the media to tell a balanced story, which means deciding who has a platform to speak. Racism is not a valid argument. “Ignorance is just not an excuse,” Sinclair says. He thinks of journalists as teachers, as their job is to facilitate conversation. “We can’t put everything on journalists, but we also can’t put everything on teachers,” he explains. “But I think expertise is needed at the very building blocks of journalism and education.” Journalism schools across Canada have been called on by the TRC to adopt mandatory Indigenous history classes in order to teach the legacy of residential schools, Indigenous law, UNDRIP, and beyond. The Indigenous Reporters Program created by Journalists for Human Rights (JHR) published a report in early 2019 detailing the accessibility and interest among young Indigenous students in pursuing a journalism career in Ontario. The report revealed that only 31.3 percent of the students surveyed had considered a career in journalism, partially because the field is not often presented as a viable career option, and also because they have few working Indigenous journalists as role models. All of this contributes to the cycle of lost stories and information gaps in the media, a situation The Secret Life of Canada strives to address.
“Once you know that
you’ve had a past,” Bowen says, “you can see your future.” Journalism has not represented a wide variety of perspectives throughout history, especially those belonging to Indigenous peoples. Their stories are crucial to understanding Canada’s full history and should be recognized as such. But Johnson and Bowen do not identify with the title of “journalists” for the work they are doing on The Secret Life of Canada. In Johnson’s view, traditional journalists parachute into communities, take the stories they need, and never return. That isn’t what she wants to do. Her view is not unfounded, seeing as journalists have reported on marginalized communities, particularly in Indigenous communities, in this manner for decades. Only recently has it begun to change. Underrepresented voices are growing louder and traditional journalistic practices adapt according to the community being reported in. This is becoming clearer among journalists as guides like Reporting in Indigenous Communities by Ryerson University visiting journalist Duncan McCue begin to surface. Indigenous podcast creators like Canadaland’s Ryan McMahon and CBC’s Connie Walker tell stories of injustice and discrimination by first building foundations of trust in Indigenous communities. The Secret Life of Canada is a herald for this approach to storytelling as well. “We want to really have community members tell their historical stories, the stories of their ancestors, the stories of their parents and grandparents,” Johnson explains, “and to do that, I think you have to make a connection.” There are systematic reasons why certain people thrive while others struggle, and the media needs to account for the history connected to the oppression that continues today in order to strive for a more equal tomorrow. SPRING 2019 | RYERSON REVIEW OF JOURNALISM 75
Why You Like BuzzFeed So Much and Why It’s Not Going Away per f An unauthorized history of BuzzFeed and BuzzFeed News in listicles and quizzes B Y CELINA G ALL ARDO
I WAS LIVID. “If you scored three or more Cs, you
should be a NEWS AGGREGATOR,” the quiz declared. “You don’t need original content when you can have cute cat listicles.” I was able to snag a copy of the Ryerson Review of Journalism’s spring 2015 edition when I found it lying in front of the RRJ office. In it was a quiz titled, “OMG! Do you dream of being a journalist?” As a first-year journalism student who had no idea what she was doing, I just had to know the answer. The RRJ looked so reputable that I expected the quiz to cure my identity crisis, and then some. During my first attempt, I answered each question truthfully, making sure each circle I drew was tightly closed. But when my score revealed that I was destined to write listicles (articles told in list form), it struck a nerve. I wasn’t making my family shell out thousands of dollars on journalism school to write clickbait and use gifs, à la BuzzFeed, for a living. So, I went back to those questions, violently scratching off each circle and erratically choosing different answers. This time, I got a tie between “COLUMNIST” and “GONZO JOURNALIST.” In fairness, the quiz had a satirical tone, equally poking fun at each type of journalist featured. Still, I felt ashamed for circling an answer like, “Fifty words? That’s as long as two articles!” Emotionally exhausted, I hid the magazine in my bookshelf, hoping that I would never have to deal with that quiz again. Now I’m here, trying to convince people that BuzzFeed is eminent not only in the digital world, but also in the journalistic world. BuzzFeed is notorious for its enticing website and video titles, often being accused of creating clickbait-style engagement. But other than listicles, aggregating tweets, and Tumblr posts and videos exploring which bagel place is worth the price, one key component of the multibillion dollar giant is its journalism.
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According to SimilarWeb’s February 2019 overview, most users who visit BuzzFeedNews.com come from BuzzFeed.com, and most people who leave BuzzFeedNews.com arrive at BuzzFeed.com. It may well be the secret ingredient to maintaining a robust online following. Their news is no joke, either: BuzzFeed News, which has been around since 2012, receives praise for its digestible breakdowns of complex news stories, as well as in-depth investigations. Its seven-part investigation into a Russian assassination plot was nominated for a Pulitzer prize in 2018. BuzzFeed Canada opened its Toronto office in 2015, the same year I started studying journalism. I was able to meet a few reporters from BuzzFeed Canada over the past four years, either in class or at school-related events. I’d always hold back questions about how light content, like quizzes approximating when quiz-takers will die, affects their original reporting. But over the years, I have become almost able to answer that question myself. In my room, I often jot down things onto pad paper with the BuzzFeed logo emblazoned on top. I also have one of its iconic yellow stickers. Mine says “perf,” and whenever I look at it on my magnetic board, I lament the one I lost that said “sorry.” Having gifs coexist with news may be a far cry from how newspapers structure their reporting, but in a flurry of depressing news in journalism and elsewhere, it gives journalists a space to make their jobs more fun. As BuzzFeed News reporter Jane Lytvynenko tells me, “It’s like there’s a playhouse in journalism, and you get to go into the playhouse and do whatever you want and then put that out into the world as your good work. It’s the best job.” As the digital media playing field continues to shift, BuzzFeed and BuzzFeed News will keep shifting with it. And you’re never going to believe what BuzzFeed News has in store for us next.
3 Reasons Why Listicles Are The News Of The Future When it comes to telling the news, the typical inverted pyramid scheme sometimes isn’t the best way to explain the intricacies of current affairs. Craig Silverman, BuzzFeed Canada’s media editor, tells the RRJ that alternative formats like listicles and quizzes (like BuzzFeed News’ weekly fake news quizzes) can make news more approachable and engaging. “I’m just always aware [that I] would get criticism for it, but it never really bothered me that much because I do think it’s important to experiment with new ways of getting information to people, particularly when folks are so distracted today,” Silverman says. In 2011, BuzzFeed editor-in-chief Ben Smith argued in Foreign Policy that listicles “are the news of the future.” Here are three reasons why he thinks this way: 1. Regardless of how engrossed younger generations are with pop culture and other distractions, they still care about current events Smith writes that “this is a difficult era for snobs”—the ones who are quick to dismiss a younger generation that knows iPhone commands and Vine (RIP) references by heart. The reality is that the same kids using dog filters on Snapchat are often at the forefront of political movements like Black liberation and gun control, using their social media accounts to advocate for their beliefs. 2. Young people need news outlets that validate them They want to be involved in current events, but sometimes legacy outlets aren’t the kindest to this demographic (we will never forget when the Guardian featured a millionaire who blamed the housing crisis on avocado toast). So, they turn to websites like BuzzFeed News, which makes complicated matters more digestible to younger readers without being patronizing. 3. News can work symbiotically with viral memes Now that people can and do share the interesting things they find on the internet, Smith writes that this creates an entirely new front page for the digital world, one that allows photos of pugs and articles about the opioid crisis to coexist. Essentially, people are able to stay informed even if they’ve logged on just for distraction—they come for the memes and stay for the news. “Don’t make the mistake of thinking that just because the social web is full of cat pictures, great journalism is dying,” Smith writes.
4 BuzzFeed Investigations You NEED To Read Although quizzes and listicles are the name of BuzzFeed’s game, they still do their fair share of long-form, heavily researched investigative journalism. Grab your blue light-cancelling glasses, sit comfortably and brace yourself: these are lengthy, fascinating reads riddled with original reporting and extensive investigations that are sure-fire page-scrollers. 1. “How A Canadian Yellow Vest Site Used Fake Accounts And Marketing Savvy To Monetize Outrage” by Craig Silverman and Jane Lytvynenko (for BuzzFeed News) and Alex Boutilier and Marco Chown Oved (for the Toronto Star) In a non-monetary partnership with the Toronto Star, BuzzFeed News is investigating how certain groups and individuals are affecting political conversations surrounding the upcoming 2019 Canadian federal elections. This first report delves into the marketing ploys of right-wing social media accounts. 2. “Above the Law” by Bruce Livesey This 2017 investigation into police misconduct in Calgary highlights the lack of nationwide data about negligence in law enforcement, and features families who were hurt by alleged malpractices. 3. “We Saw Nuns Kill Children: The Ghosts of St. Joseph’s Catholic Orphanage” by Christine Kenneally With the help of court documents from the ’90s and remaining survivors, this investigation traces the child abuse that infected a Catholic orphanage in Burlington, Vermont. It was published weeks after an extensive report on Roman Catholic dioceses by the Grand Jury of Pennsylvania. It’s supplemented with eerie photographs from St. Joseph’s past and present. 4. “The Money Trail” series Stories from “The Money Trail” series keep a close eye on United States-Russia relations. Their most rousing investigation so far reveals that President Donald Trump directed his attorney to lie about plans to build a Trump tower in Moscow. Despite denials from Trump and skepticism from his supporters, editor-in-chief Ben Smith reportedly stands by his team’s reporting. SPRING 2019 | RYERSON REVIEW OF JOURNALISM 77
You’re An Internet Noob Z I QU If You Can’t Tell If These Headlines Are From BuzzFeed Or From BuzzFeed News Ishmael Daro, a former BuzzFeed News reporter, says that BuzzFeed doesn’t take its headlines lightly, making sure they’re enticing but not to the point of becoming clickbait (which often rely on giving incomplete information, like, “You’ll never guess what happens next”). This, however, doesn’t mean that BuzzFeed News headlines will always sound like ones found on the front of the Financial Post. See if you can tell BuzzFeed and BuzzFeed News headlines apart. 1. Pitbull Has Covered “Africa” And Oh My God It’s So Good 2. Here’s What Happened When I Spent Two Weeks Venting To A Relentlessly Positive Chatbot 3. 46 Memes That Defined 2018 4. The Future King Of England Was Photographed Wearing Pants And Gumboots And I Bow Down 5. 26 People Who Actually Fell For Fake News In 2018 6. This Toddler’s Favorite Toy Is A “Creepy William Shakespeare Doll,” And It’s The Funniest Thing 7. These Puppies Know If You’re Single
ANSWERS: 1. BuzzFeed News 2. BuzzFeed News 3. BuzzFeed News 4. BuzzFeed.com 5. BuzzFeed.com 6. BuzzFeed News 7. BuzzFeed.com If you got anything between 1-3/7, you probably need to get off Facebook and get a better grip on reality. If you got anything between 4-6/7, you’re a very reasonable person cursed with unavoidable human error. If you got 7/7, congratulations—you are officially the ruler of the internet. Nothing can fool you.
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3 Ways BuzzFeed News Finds Credibility In The Journalistic World 3 Elements The BuzzFeed News Website Takes From Traditional Newspaper Design In the summer of 2018, BuzzFeed News got its own website, separating it from their more laidback counterpart. “What we’ve learned over the years, the average BuzzFeed audience member wants both news and the classic BuzzFeed buzz content,” Silverman says. “So, even though news now sits on its own domain and the brands are often thought of as connected but different, you still want to serve news to people who are on BuzzFeed.com, and you still want people on BuzzFeed News to have a sense of what’s on BuzzFeed.com. So, it’s a way of mutually reinforcing each site.” Steve Dorsey, vice president of news performance and partnerships at GateHouse Media, examines BuzzFeedNews.com and points out similarities the site has to traditional newspapers and trends he’s noticing with online news design. 1. It’s monochromatic with a few splashes of colour Unlike its entertainment counterpart, which is more playful with its colour scheme, BuzzFeed News’ website is monochromatic, accented with splashes of red and yellow to stay consistent with the BuzzFeed branding. 2. It uses a serif font for its logo and headlines If you’re attempting to make a website look more mature and serious, a serif font is just your type. It makes sense, considering how newspapers have used serif fonts (like Times New Roman or Georgia) since the creation of the printing press, Dorsey says. 3. The homepage is designed to highlight the top story of the day Rather than displaying each story equally, BuzzFeed News presents its homepage content in a hierarchical order, emphasizing the top news story at the moment. It’s also able to change its top stories frequently throughout the day. This is where BuzzFeed News greatly benefits from being an online-only news outlet. “When you get into talking about a newspaper that has that legacy print component, it’s hard to let go of the segregation of news into state, local business, feature, or whatever,” Dorsey says. “And I think by not having the weight and the burden of a print component, [BuzzFeed News] just has whatever’s happening today. In fact, I’m watching [the website] and it’s updating right before my eyes.”
Paul Stringer, a UK-based researcher, saw a huge gap in the academic field when it came to researching Vice or BuzzFeed. And that’s what he decided to do in his 2018 scholarly article, “Finding a Place in the Journalistic Field”. “I was really keen on kind of expanding our understanding of how journalism is evolving online. And I thought BuzzFeed and Vice would be really interesting case studies to do that because they had received almost no attention despite growing fairly rapidly and achieving a lot of success fairly quickly in their young lives,” Stringer says. With the help of anonymous BuzzFeed sources, Stringer was able to find these three things about the media giant. 1. In with the old and in with the new In his paper, Stringer found that BuzzFeed’s mix of young reporters and seasoned editors gave the company the advantage of producing fresh content built on a traditional news foundation. This allows them to build a stronger connection with a younger audience while still maintaining journalistic principles like accuracy and verification. “What we’re seeing is a broader cultural shift towards LGBT rights, civil rights, and gender equality becoming much more important issues for the culture at large,” Stringer says. “As these become more important issues, they lend new organizations who are much better at covering [them] than traditional media, more legitimacy.” 2. …But don’t forget to be serious, too When it comes to building trust, however, it can’t b e all fun and games. “One of the more straightforward ways for new organizations to build credibility is by focusing on culturally-esteemed areas of reporting or forms of journalism, like investigative journalism, politics, or hard news coverage,” Stringer says. “That, particularly investigative journalism, is the kind of journalism that gets respect from peers and gives [them] cultural legitimacy.” 3. News can be used for reinforcing their brand BuzzFeed CEO Jonah Peretti has said that diversification is key for BuzzFeed to survive the digital world, which is why they allow memes and current events to coexist. “I think they still see it as an important part of their business, and I think they also see it as playing an important role in lending legitimacy to their wider brand, which is a really important thing for BuzzFeed because they’re primarily still perceived as an organization that makes humor and entertainment content,” Stringer says.
IZ Were You Actually Paying QU Attention To BuzzFeed’s Monumental Round Of Layoffs? BuzzFeed had a hectic start to 2019: In late January, The Wall Street Journal leaked the news of the company’s staggering round of layoffs shortly before Peretti could email the news to his employees. The big question is, were you paying attention while the whole thing was happening? Take this quiz to find out. Or just read the answers.
1. What percentage of BuzzFeed’s staff was laid off, according to Peretti’s memo? a) Seven percent b) 10 percent c) 15 percent d) 20 percent
2. Which media company also had layoffs in the same month? a) Vice b) Verizon (which owns HuffPost) c) Gannett d) All of the above
3. What was one reason Peretti gave for the layoffs in his initial company-wide email? a) Reducing costs and improving their operating model b) Those particular employees were not doing their jobs properly c) The company was bought out d) He just felt like it
4. Which countries were affected by the layoffs? a) Just the United States b) Just North America c) Mostly the United States, with a few layoffs in Canada and Europe d) Just Europe
5. With a petition of almost 600 signatures from BuzzFeed employees (both employed and recently laid off), what were they able to achieve for those recently laid off? a) Full rights to the content they produced b) Remuneration for their paid time off c) A paid-for dinner d) Assistance with finding a new job
6. What are BuzzFeed News employees fighting for now? a) Mandatory therapy dogs b) Unionization c) Less frequent content production d) To rehire people who were laid off
7. Where can BuzzFeed employees ask Peretti questions directly? a) Facebook Messenger b) Slack c) Twitter d) They can’t ask him questions
ANSWERS: 1. C 2. D 3. A 4. C 5. B 6. B 7. B
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Three Initiatives To Help Recently Laid-Off BuzzFeed Employees Perhaps the most positive outcome from BuzzFeed’s massive layoffs is how people were quick to show support and solidarity, both inside and outside the company. Here are three online acts of kindness made in the hopes of helping the recently unemployed get back on their feet. 1. BuzzFeed Beer Fund Like several of his colleagues, BuzzFeed News copy editor Emerson Malone was quick to act once he heard about the layoffs. Around three days after news of the layoffs was leaked, he started a beer fund where people can donate money online so they can buy recently laidoff BuzzFeed employees a drink. Malone, 25, anonymously threw in $50 before the fund started gaining traction. He ended up collecting over $8,500, which he plans on sending to all BuzzFeed employees affected by the layoffs, including at the Los Angeles office where he works. “The level of generosity has been so humbling and it’s been incredible,” Malone says. “The support system in all of this has been really strong, both in the office and externally.” 2. Hire a BuzzFeeder The doom and gloom of BuzzFeed’s layoffs also reached computer science student Alexandre Mouriec, 22, who lives in Northwestern France. Mouriec is an avid reader of BuzzFeed News; it helps him improve his English and it keeps him connected to what happens in the United States. He created Hire a BuzzFeeder, a website that lists recently laid-off BuzzFeed employees to make it easier for employers to find them. Currently, over 130 employees are listed on the site, with help from retweets and replies (Ben Smith now follows him on Twitter). “I would like to have less people [on the website] because it would mean that there aren’t many layoffs, but I know that there are layoffs so I’d like to help them as much as possible,” Mouriec says. 3. CJR’s thread “for anyone who has been laid off” Mathew Ingram is a chief digital writer for the Columbia Journalism Review and has written about BuzzFeed News since its early years. He started a simple conversation thread where recently laid-off employees can promote themselves and employers can advertise their job openings. “[At CJR,] everyone knows someone at BuzzFeed, [and] we all know what it’s like to be laid off,” Ingram says. “I’ve been laid off multiple times...So, I think we all feel this particularly personally.”
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4 Stories of BuzzFeed’s Toronto Office And Its Drive To Unionize In the wake of BuzzFeed’s layoffs, BuzzFeed News’ American offices decided to apply for unionization, which Peretti reportedly deemed unsuitable for the company back in 2015. Following their American BuzzFeed News colleagues, BuzzFeed News breaking news editors Lauren Strapagiel and Jane Lytvynenko are leading the efforts to unionize BuzzFeed’s Toronto office. The office, which consists of about a dozen employees, had one person laid off. But since they have a smaller staff count, they are able to include workers who produce BuzzFeed Originals’ content. And in March 2019, BuzzFeed Canada officially unionized with the Communications Workers of America (CWA Canada). They are the first North American office to unionize BuzzFeed Originals employees. Here’s what went down before their unionization. 1. This isn’t the first time they’ve considered unionization About a year ago, editorial employees at the Canadian office had a casual, preliminary conversation with the CWA Canada that didn’t result in much. But when BuzzFeed News jumped onto applying for unionization in the aftermath of the layoffs, they knew it was time to continue where they left off. “We’re a very small office, so we weren’t sure if we could do it by ourselves, but that international unity has really helped propel us forward for this,” Lytvynenko says. 2. Despite all the buzz, applying for unionization can be pretty boring One of the biggest obstacles with unionization is its tedious application process. When they got to work, Strapagiel and Lytvynenko had to write a statement and send an email to the company. They also needed to collect enough signed cards from their colleagues (which they did). “We had to fax the application,” Strapagiel says. “Who faxes things?” 3. Unions are what employees make of them Lytvynenko says that one deterrent for workers in the digital industry is the fear of having to stick to only one job. If someone has a contract to be a print reporter, for example, then they fear that they won’t be able to work on video or other multimedia. But when speaking with their union representative, Lytvynenko and Strapagiel made it clear they want flexibility with their roles. “I think that it’s really important that if anybody else considers this process, they [need to] understand that whatever misconceptions there have been about unions in the past, the union is what the workers make of it,” Lytvynenko says. “Nothing is set in stone unless we set it in stone.” 4. Just because they want to unionize doesn’t mean they’re unhappy “I believe that [unionizing] is really important no matter how well your company treats you. And like we’ve said, our company treats us well,” Strapagiel says. Unionization is their way of having their rights written down, guaranteed to ensure that they don’t lose their jobs without negotiation. “Really, it’s a matter of having peace of mind that your company is going to continue to treat you well,” Strapagiel says.
Two Of BuzzFeed News’ Money Moves That You Might Not Have Heard Of Until Now When it comes to funding news, things can get tricky. It’s not easy making people want to pay for their news without completely restricting access to vital information. “That’s what I think a lot of digital brands don’t realize, necessarily. The brands that don’t make it, they think you’re supposed to monetize your content. And BuzzFeed has said no—we’re going to monetize our audience,” says Bree Rody-Mantha, a news editor from Media in Canada. “It goes to show that they actually put a lot of value and they’ve put a lot of stock in their own millennial demographic.” According to Bloomberg, BuzzFeed’s commerce division has raised $50 million in sales in 2018. Here are two ways BuzzFeed News is helping fund their journalism while keeping it barrier-free. 1. BuzzFeed News’ membership program Although it’s been a growing trend for online news sites, BuzzFeed News vows to its readers that it will never have a paywall. But that doesn’t mean that they aren’t giving opportunities for their readers to give monetary support. So, instead of blocking their news with a popup, they invite their readers to “become a BuzzFeed News Member.” According to BuzzFeed News’ manager of communications, Katie Rayford, the membership program garnered “tens of thousands” of dollars in revenue after launching in late 2018. So, $5 (USD) a month will get you exclusive emails on big scoops, new stories and other behind-thescenes tidbits. And paying $100 (USD) a month will get you those emails and a swanky black tote bag with the BuzzFeed News logo printed on it in glossy black. 2. Brand partnerships One particular collaboration was with plant care company Scott’s Miracle-Gro Co., which, in collaboration with BuzzFeed and its expertise on millennial behaviour patterns, created Lunarly, a subscription service that mails houseplants based on the lunar calendar. According to Bloomberg, Lunarly has sold out repeatedly, which was created in response to how popular posts about mindfulness were on BuzzFeed. “We help brands connect to their target audiences through sponsored editorial segments, since we already cover subjects and topics that can resonate with a brand’s campaign theme,” Rayford wrote to the RRJ. On their Twitter show, AM2DM, for example, they did a segment on how busy parents can use playtime to connect with their children. Lego sponsored this segment, using it to promote their playsets for The Lego Movie 2.
IZ What Kind Of BuzzFeed Content QU Creator Are You? That RRJ quiz from 2015 left me in shambles. Let’s see how you hold up after this one. In order to survive a volatile digital landscape, BuzzFeed needs to have more than one avenue to appeal to a wider audience. Before you send your resume and Wordpress blog over to BuzzFeed, take this quiz to find out which job suits you best.
1. What’s the first thing you do when you wake up? a) Check Twitter, Reddit, and Tumblr for the latest buzz b) Make a super easy, one-skillet breakfast served atop a tea cloth and marble countertop c) Sleep? Never heard of it d) T ake a Snapchat video of you emerging from your sheets e) Read some Sartre or Camus
2. What’s one tool you can’t live without? a) Screenshot functions b) A pressure cooker c) Google Docs d) A ny camera with a flip-out screen e) Certainty
ANSWERS: If you got mostly As, you’re a CONTENT AGGREGATOR! The screenshot tools on your laptop and on your phone are your best friends. You’re often asked to create listicles that are supposed to pander to a niche audience with content that only people in said niche will understand. Good thing all of the most relatable people have public social media accounts!
If you got mostly Bs, you’re a TASTY PRODUCER! You don’t mind eating your perfectlycooked risotto cold—it’s the price you pay for all those good shots you took of pouring it into your artisanal bowl. Bonus: you probably have really nice hands.
3. What gets you fired up?
If you got mostly Cs, you’re a BUZZFEED NEWS REPORTER!
a) Twitter threads that don’t come with a counter b) Not being able to bake the perfect batch of macarons c) Fake news spreading like wildfire d) Really bad lighting e) The burdens of free will
It doesn’t matter if you’re making a quiz, a listicle, or a full-length investigation, you tell the news and you tell it well. You know how to have fun while still getting the job done.
If you got mostly Ds, you’re a BUZZFEED VIDEO PRODUCER!
4. Best Halloween candy?
You’ll try anything and everything as long as it’s being recorded. You feel no shame as you walk down the street while holding a camera in front of you, as your team records more video and audio for that good B-roll.
a) Kit-Kat b) Snickers c) Coffee Crisp d) Sour Patch Kids e) I don’t know
5. What trend needs to die ASAP? a) Stolen memes with no credit b) Milkshakes topped with unicorn vomit c) Any hindrances on freedom of the press d) None. I’ll try all of them e) Choose your own adventure/ multiverse series
If you got mostly Es, you’re a QUIZ MAKER! Choices, choices, choices. You’re hyper-aware of how one thing leads to another, and how one small choice can alter outcomes. You don’t really know how the way someone chooses to pronounce “tomato” can determine if they like hot or cold weather, but you just roll with it. After all, no quiz can ever be as cruel and arbitrary as life itself.
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EMERGING SIGNS OF HOPE As traditional news outlets falter and crumble are there any new models out there to take their place? Perhaps not yet. But there are many fresh and exciting new ventures giving it their best shot. Case studies in journalistic entrepreneurship
Green Shoots How small signs of hope are sprouting up across the impoverished local news landscape B Y OLIVIA BEDNAR
ON A SEEMINGLY ORDINARY MONDAY morning in November 2017, reporter Cecilia Nasmith walked into the offices of Northumberland Today. She was preparing for an interview scheduled for 10 a.m. Suddenly, she and the rest of the staff present were called into the tiny boardroom. “I sure hope this doesn’t take long,” Nasmith whispered to a colleague. It didn’t. The paper had recently been involved in a community newspaper swap between Torstar and Post Media, and the new owners greeted them abruptly: “Effective immediately, your services are no longer required.” Nasmith and her coworkers were ordered to clean out their desks. She was given a thumb drive to download personal pictures off her laptop. In a rush, she forgot to take all of her belongings with her. Northumberland Today was one of the 40-plus papers involved in the Torstar/Postmedia swap in late 2017. Torstar acquired Northumberland Today along with 16 other local papers. Northumberland Today was then immediately shut down. Now, only four of the other papers are still in operation. Northumberland, located approximately 125 kilometres east of Toronto, is comprised
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of seven small municipalities: Cobourg, Port Hope, Trent Hills, Brighton, Hamilton Township, Alnwick/Haldimand, and Cramahe. The closure left the rural area of about 85,000 people without a daily print newspaper—a problem faced by an increasing number of small communities in Canada and elsewhere. Yet journalists in many of these towns are trying out new and distinctive solutions. In September 2018, the Northumberland Hub was launched by John Miller, a retired journalist and former chair of Ryerson University’s School of Journalism, along with the Local News Northumberland group, which comprises local journalists and community volunteers. The Hub compiles local news every weekday and puts it all in one place in an attempt to replicate the experience of reading the daily newspaper. In Prince Albert, Saskatchewan, employees at the Prince Albert Daily Herald bought their paper in 2017 when it was threatened with closure. In Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan, an ex-writer at the daily paper, the Moose Jaw Times-Herald, began an independent news site after it shuttered. Citizen–journalism ventures have also been popping up, including a DIY paper run by a librarian in New Hampshire. Though it’s a precarious time for local journalism, with ruthless slashing of jobs and papers closing across the continent, there are some small green shoots sprouting up across the impoverished local news landscape. It’s too early to tell if any will truly succeed, but with all the doom and gloom out there, it’s good to be reminded there is also room for hope and optimism.
IN 2017, MILLER RELEASED A RESEARCH PROJECT, THE Shrinking Mirror, which compared the local coverage of Port Hope by the Port Hope Evening Guide in the ’90s to the local coverage of Port Hope by Northumberland Today in 2017, when the paper was owned by Postmedia. Miller’s research showed that by 2017 more than 75 percent of the content in the paper came from wire services compared to only 13 percent in 1996. He also concluded that as of 2017 only 7.5 percent of news stories in the paper were actually about Port Hope. That same year, no letters to the editor were published and all editorials were written elsewhere by Postmedia employees. Miller pointed out four worrisome trends in his research: the issue of concentration of corporate chains owning community papers; the increase in newspaper closures and mergers; the decline in advertising; and lack of quality in the content. The findings showed that 55 percent of Canada’s 1,083 community papers were owned by 10 corporate chains. It also stated that 225 weekly newspapers had closed or merged since 2010, and so had 27 dailies, while revenue at Canadian community newspapers had declined by one-third ($400 million) since 2012. In addition, Miller noted the lack of quality work, quoting his old colleague, Torstar chair, John Honderich: “There is a
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crisis of declining good journalism across Canada, and at this point, we only see the situation getting worse.” In 2012, the Communication Policy Research Network (CPRN), a network developed by the University of Southern California’s Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism, in collaboration with the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Center for Communication and Democracy, found there are eight critical information needs for communities. These information needs are: emergencies and risks, health and welfare, education, transportation, economic opportunities, the environment, civic, and political. CPRN, along with social scientists and legal scholars, concluded that every community deserves access to these information needs. Often, it is the community newspaper that provides this information. When these critical information needs are not being met, Ryerson journalism professor April Lindgren refers to it as “local news poverty.” Data collected by the Local News Research Project, led by Lindgren, showed there have been 216 direct newspaper closures and 44 closures due to mergers over the past 10 years in Canada. Out of those 260 closures and mergers, 189 of them were community papers. These small, local outlets make up about 73 percent of the closures. Two years ago, the Columbia Journalism Review created an interactive map of the local news deserts in the United States. In Canada, the Local News Research Project created a crowd–sourced local news map that tracks closures and launches of local news. To fill the void in urban areas, new publications, such as the Pointer in Brampton, the West End Phoenix in Toronto, and the Sprawl in Calgary, have cropped up. They are independent spaces that rely more on combinations of subscription, paywall, and donation dollars than ad revenue. But they are all located in areas served by several other journalistic outlets. By contrast, some small towns have only one outlet for their local coverage. A study conducted by the New Rural Economy Project published in the Journal of Rural Community Development, concluded that it is critical for local media to relay information to communities. This study was a part of the Canadian Rural Revitalization Foundation, a national initiative focused on understanding rural change since 1997. But what happens in small towns when the sole news source gets taken away from its citizens? How are local journalists attempting to keep that sense of community and democracy alive?
IN JUNE 2016, STAR NEWS PUBLISHING INC. BOUGHT THE Prince Albert Daily Herald, along with 12 other local Saskatchewan papers. By late 2017, Star News was looking for a buyer for the paper—which employed approximately 20 staff members—or else it would have to close the paper down. So, publisher Donna Pfeil,
with help from colleagues, devised a plan for the employees to buy the Daily Herald. Pfeil won’t disclose details of the purchase, but she says it was a long process with lots of negotiations. Ultimately, the staff—including the publisher, media manager, advertising staff, reporters, and others—bought the paper and became an independent entity. “It’s such a small community, so that’s why, for me, closing down just wasn’t an option,” Pfeil says. “To me, a paper is kind of like the glue that actually holds a community together, keeps everybody informed.” Since May 2018, the employees have owned and operated the
see themselves represented, especially on the cover. The Daily Herald doesn’t always have the resources to jump on breaking national news, but it always prioritizes the local news you won’t hear anywhere else, giving local people a voice. That lack of resources is one issue that Lozinski says arises with an independent, employee-owned newspaper, but he says they find ways to make it work for them. Still, Lozinski says that everyone gets paid fairly and gets vacation time. “It’s been the most comfortable I’ve felt in any job in local media,” Lozinski says. “There’s definitely a lot of obstacles in the way, but for many reasons you’re able to connect to a community instead of having a perception you’re being told what to do from a big firm...To see that we were now living and working in their community, producing their paper instead of someone they didn’t know, was a big thing,” Lozinski says. “People like to support local business and they see us in that light. But I think the independent outlets is the way to go. I think for many, many reasons. I think that’s the way we’ll see things working out.”
“ We know our community. They are our neighbours, friends, volunteers that keep our activities going within the community,” Pfeil says. “What’s important to us as community members may not always be important to bosses living outside of the community...” paper. Decisions are made much quicker now, as everything is done in-house and doesn’t have to go through a chain of command. As of early 2019, editor Peter Lozinski and staff reporters Lucas Punkari and Jason Kerr make up the editorial team. They report on sports, art, council, community news, or whatever needs to be covered that day. Lozinski and Punkari are from Ontario but moved to Prince Albert within the last couple years. The rest of the staff are originally from Prince Albert and the surrounding areas. “We know our community. These are our neighbours, friends, volunteers that keep our activities going within the community,” Pfeil says. “What’s important to us as community members may not always be important to bosses living outside of the community...They don’t always see the value in some of these littler things like [a Little League] baseball tournament that you’re supporting.” Prince Albert is a small city of 35,000 people. Punkari covers Little League games, the Western Hockey League team, the junior hockey team, and the high school teams. It’s something that people care about and bond over in the community that would be difficult for someone outside of the city to report on. “Fifty faces in the paper” is one of Pfeil’s goals, which means that she always wants the local community to
LAST YEAR, IN THE CITY OF MOOSE JAW, EIGHT women came forward with accusations of sexual harassment against a senior official at the Downtown Facility and Field House. The man is no longer employed at the facility. Three city councillors were sanctioned for failure to deal with the complaints. “There is serious news happening in these communities,” says former Moose Jaw Times-Herald reporter Mickey Djuric. “Politicians haven’t had watchdogs in a while. The courts haven’t had watchdogs in a while. There haven’t been journalists at these meetings for years. It’s crazy what I’m sure can be uncovered in all these small towns across Canada.” The Times-Herald ceased publishing in late 2017, after 128 years. Djuric says after the paper shut down, a lot of people began to get their news from social media. Djuric, a 29-year-old originally from Toronto, launched the Daily Jaw in June of 2018. The idea sparked after she quit her job as a reporter at the Moose Jaw Times-Herald in 2015. The Times-Herald had refused to publish a video she had taken of Saskatchewan MP Tom Lukiwski’s victory speech. In the video, Lukiwski said that a Tory candidate is “too important of an MLA [Member of Legislative Assembly] to let go down to an NDP...” The word that follows NDP is either “whore” or “horde.” It isn’t clear. In an editorial addressing the matter, the Times-Herald said it did not want to publish the video without being certain which word was used. Djuric claims it was common for the Times-Herald to avoid publishing anything that might be unfavourable. “I just knew that I could find a niche reporting on news that was extremely underreported in this community,” Djuric says. SPRING 2019 | RYERSON REVIEW OF JOURNALISM 85
After leaving Toronto, Djuric’s first journalism job was in Wainwright, Alberta where her editor instilled in her a deep love of community news. After working at the Times-Herald, she developed an affinity towards the town of 33,000 people, and wanted to bring them the local reporting they deserved. “I know the town. I know the people. I had great relationships with my sources. I said, ‘I’m just going to do it.’ I saw news failing and I was like, ‘I think I could do this.’” Currently, there is no funding for the site. Djuric is working out of her savings. She originally planned to go six months to a year without monetizing the site just to get things off the ground, but by month two she already had advertising offers from local businesses. As of early 2019, she’s starting to consider taking on advertisers. It’s just her doing the reporting right now but she hopes to expand her team once she gets more funding, and hopefully increase coverage of sports and the arts. Djuric will sometimes spend 18 hours a day running around interviewing and covering events. In 2018, there were three major murder cases going through Moose Jaw’s courthouse, a pretty significant number for a small town. When Djuric started covering court, it became clear in her reporting that the city has an underlying issue with meth addiction, something that had little coverage there. “The community has been missing out on hard-hitting investigations,” she says. At first, the community was a bit shocked at all the things she was covering, but ultimately, the feedback has been extremely positive, Djuric says. At the time of writing, the Daily Jaw had over 3,000 likes on its Facebook page and over 1,000 followers on Instagram. Positive engagement with the community can be seen on these platforms as well as on the site itself. “I was lucky because I did come from the Times-Herald, and I think that’s why I do have the level of respect that I do in this community,” Djuric says. “I’ve worked 18 months at the Times-Herald and fostered those relationships.”
Northumberland Hub would post the headlines and pictures of local stories from all of these outlets and links to them, providing access to all the content in one neat place. The team would aggregate this content every weekday, voluntarily. The site launched in the summer of 2018. It was meant to be a place where people could find local news sources to come back to. In February of 2019, the Northumberland Hub announced that it would stop publishing after the Local News Northumberland group, which Miller is a part of, conducted a survey in December. Based on the statistics gathered, the survey revealed that the need for the Northumberland Hub’s services had faded. Additionally, it wrote that “the group’s resources have dwindled.” Miller says the loss of local news outlets has a strong effect on democracy. “When you’re electing a government for four years and less than a third of the people bother to turn out to vote, you don’t have a very healthy democracy.” One of the sites the Northumberland Hub aggregated from was
“ Politicians haven’t had watchdogs in a while, the courts haven’t had watchdogs in a while…It’s crazy what can be uncovered in all these small towns across Canada”
ON A MARCH EVENING IN 2018, FOUR MONTHS after the Northumberland Today closure, about 200 community members piled into Cobourg’s historic Victoria Hall for a town hall meeting. With its high painted ceilings and 19th century architecture, the hall has been a staple of the community for almost two centuries. Moderated by CTV broadcast journalist Tony Grace, community members voiced their opinions about the paper closing and proposed solutions. Displays showcased the initiatives happening to fill the void: a couple of radio stations, a weekly paper, and a few websites. The product of the meeting: The Northumberland Hub. Today, in the Northumberland area, there are 15 different local news outlets, which include online sites, TV channels, and radio shows, all covering bits and pieces of local action. The
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Four Canadian publications with fresh takes on local journalism West End Phoenix Launched in October 2017, this Toronto-based community newspaper runs on a subscription model. For $75 a year, subscribers get a year’s worth of print papers delivered to their home, and online content on all things happening in Toronto’s West End. Ad-free and non-profit, the paper is fueled by patrons and subscribers.
The Pointer The Brampton-based independent website was launched in September 2018 by journalist San Grewal and provides investigative stories on municipal issues. Brampton, a city of about 600,000, gets most of its coverage from places like the Toronto Star and CBC. The site operates on a subscription model, charging $10 a month for content.
The Sprawl called Today’s Northumberland. After Northumberland Today closed, Nasmith wasn’t sure what to do with herself. She had worked at the paper for 29 years. One of her colleagues, Pete Fisher, started his own site with Steve White, the former national photo editor at Postmedia, called Today’s Northumberland. The publication does its best to provide local coverage on everything from crime to sports. Now, Nasmith writes and reports on a volunteer basis for them as well as for the local radio station. “It’s great. I get to still do what I did before,” Nasmith says. “It’s just not in an organized or paid way.”
This Calgary company, launched in September 2017, follows the pop-up journalism model and its content is crowdfunded. The Sprawl does deep dives on issues affecting Calgarians—at their own pace. Not having to pump out a paper every day, the online publication takes time to give stories the context and thorough reporting needed.
local paper shut down due to lack of funding over two years ago. At the time, Sullivan was new to the area, having just started as a full-time librarian at the Weare Public Library. Sullivan’s only previous journalistic experience came from his days at his high school newspaper, but a local resident suggested the library do something. “People were kind of crying out for somewhere for local news,” Sullivan says. Sullivan uses about $25 of the library’s budget to produce each weekly issue, most of which goes towards photocopying fees. The real cost is Sullivan’s time, as he usually spends eight hours of his work week putting the paper together. “It’s a labour of love,” Sullivan says. “We don’t have a town centre. We don’t have a community centre. We don’t even have sidewalks…We [don’t have many things] that bring people together, and this newspaper has really been an eye opener for people.” Citizen-driven journalism like Sullivan’s has been one response to newspaper closures, producing mixed results. In some cases, a collaboration between citizens and professionals has emerged to fill the void. In Toronto in 2010, former CNN foreign correspondent Wilf Dinnick launched OpenFile. It was a community journalism website where anyone could pitch a story, supply photos or links, and then, if deemed newsworthy, a journalist employed by OpenFile would write it up. It provided a sort of local, public service journalism. The site was credited as being extremely innovative, and Dinnick won J-Source’s Canadian newsperson of the year award in 2012. But later that year, several freelancers weren’t paid and Dinnick suspended the publication indefinitely. In the United States, Europe, and Australia, an app called NextDoor acts as a platform for people who live in the same neighbourhood to interact and post about what’s happening in their community. In the United States, news organizations have partnered with it to infuse community feeds with news stories relevant to them. But in 2015, the platform started receiving media backlash for the racial profiling that was taking place, which Nextdoor has since addressed. The 2016 report by Canada’s Public Policy Forum “Does serious journalism have a future in Canada?” states, “Even if one accepts that new standalone or citizen journalists are taking their place, it does not constitute the same contribution to serious journalism.”
The Deep magazine IN SOME CASES, IT’S NOT ALWAYS JOURNALISTS STEPPING UP to the plate. In the tiny farm town of Weare, New Hampshire, local librarian Michael Sullivan has taken it upon himself to start a DIY local newspaper called Weare in the World. Sullivan drives around every Tuesday to drop off the paper at various spots around town, including local businesses, town offices, gas stations, and restaurants—the most popular being Dunkin’ Donuts. Sometimes, there are people waiting there for him to make sure they get a copy. Weare’s
Publishing one long-form story a month, this Halifax-based publication is solely dedicated to in-depth stories on Atlantic issues. Started by journalist couple Matthew Halliday and Chelsea Murray in 2017, the Deep has a subscriptionbased model. —OLIVIA BEDNAR
IN JULY 2018, A 17-YEAR-OLD BOY DIED IN A TWO-VEHICLE collision in Prince Albert. He was part of Prince Albert’s Thomas Settee Boxing Club, which the Daily Herald reported was like “his second home.” The paper ran a heartfelt tribute to the boy, and people came into the offices to buy the paper and thank the staff. Some even came to the office in tears. “It wasn’t a big news thing,” Pfeil says. “But it’s a community, and that’s the stuff you miss out on [in] the big papers. This is what’s important to the community.” SPRING 2019 | RYERSON REVIEW OF JOURNALISM 87
EMERGING SIGNS OF HOPE
New Kids on the Block As old media crumbles, these startups are moving in B Y ANDREW CRUICKSHANK
IN 2001, DAVID BENTLEY, A LONGTIME
journalist living in Halifax, Nova Scotia, decided he was done with print. He’d spent the last three decades labouring over self-started paper and ink publications only to watch them wither and die. Bentley’s first publication, a women’s magazine called Fleur, launched around 1970, was shuttered after a few issues. Then, the Daily News, a tabloid newspaper printed six days a week—started by Bentley in 1974 as a weekly called the Bedford-Sackville News—was sold to the Newfoundland Capital Corporation Ltd. in the mid 1980s. After changing hands several times, it folded in 2008. Finally, the irreverent Frank magazine, a gossip sheet covering Nova Scotia’s rich and powerful, was launched in 1987, only to run into a $60,000 defamation lawsuit over an article it had published in April 1996 about politician Gordon Earle. The case concluded in 2000, and Bentley
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ORIGINAL IMAGES: ISTOCK
sold the Halifax edition of the publication to one of his reporters later that year. These early print publications taught Bentley three lessons: keep costs low, don’t rely on advertisers for revenue, and don’t give away your product for free. These lessons informed his decision to switch to digital in March 2001, launching Halifax’s first online local news site, allNovaScotia.com, that focuses on covering business news. The site set up a hard paywall right from the start, eschewing advertisers and requiring a subscription to read the content—an almost unprecedented decision at the time considering most publications were giving away their online content for free. By February 2002, Bentley had convinced 20 businesses to buy 10 subscriptions each at a rate of $20 per month. But he encountered a problem. Readers were able to copy and paste the stories to different platforms, printing them out and handing them around to friends and family. To solve this, Bentley contracted an IT team to switch the site’s graphics program to Flash, making the site difficult to cut and paste, and invisible to search engines, allowing only subscribers to find content. Since then, allNovaScotia’s growth has been “slow and steady,” says Ben Wood, the publication’s assistant publisher and Bentley’s grandson. Just recently, it reached 11,000 subscribers with a team of about 35 staff. In 2016, allNovaScotia opened a second newsroom on Water Street in downtown St. John’s, Newfoundland. And in February 2018, they opened a third in Moncton, New Brunswick. Bentley even relented on advertising, allowing a few ads to appear on the site, charging advertisers by the day rather than the usual rates based on number of readers visiting the site or number of clicks on the ad. But only 20 percent of the site’s revenue comes from advertising—the rest from subscriptions. The current subscription rate sits at $39 per month, allowing access to three users. “We have a premium product that people pay good money for,” Wood says, justifying the price. Whether this is true is up for debate, but regardless, people are paying. Although Bentley succeeded, the paywall model doesn’t work for everyone. Multiple legacy media companies have set up soft paywalls as they try to balance their print and online publications. The Globe and Mail was one of the first, launching its metered paywall in 2012—11 years after allNovaScotia. According to an interview in Marketing Magazine, Phillip Crawley, the Globe’s publisher, said the publication lost 10 to 15 percent of its page views after the launch. Today, the Globe offers registered readers six free articles per month, and a full monthly online subscription for $6.99 per week—approximately $28 per month. While legacy media grapples with funding both print and online content, digital startups are experimenting with new business models to fill the gaps in coverage. In Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario, Village Media is offering hyperlocal news for free, driven by online advertising. In Toronto, the Logic is taking a similar approach to allNovaScotia, tackling Canada’s innovation economy with a paywall. Based out of the West Coast, the Discourse is covering underserved communities with a voluntary membership model, and the National Observer is
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reporting national news through a combination of soft paywalls and collaborations with organizations. Finally, the Conversation, a notfor-profit model from Australia, is disseminating news, analysis and expert opinion written by researchers and academics to the public. There’s no assurance these models are sustainable. Even success stories like allNovaScotia rest on the shaky foundations of readers’ interest. But with newspaper brands still reaching three out of four adults across Canada every week, and 49 percent of those adults now accessing newspaper content on a mobile device, these publications are prepared to prove they deserve to exist.
IN 1996, FRESH OFF AN ADMINISTRATIVE AND COMMERCIAL studies degree from Western University, Jeff Elgie returned home to Sault Ste. Marie. In high school, he’d created an IT consulting business, but hadn’t touched it in the last year and a half. Now that he was home, he decided to start it up again. The business focused on network administration and server configuration for small and medium sized local businesses. Two years in, Elgie also acquired a bankrupt web development company called Lucidia Ltd. that designed the membership management system for the Canadian PGA and oversaw the email program, customer relationship management, and marketing communications for the Fairmont hotel chain worldwide. But on a local level, Lucidia brought with it a community portal, including a business directory that used Flash to map out the businesses in Sault Ste. Marie before the creation of Google Maps. In 2001, Elgie and a local coupon site that provided printout coupons for use at local retailers, decided to collaborate, combining his community portal with their site. The coupon site had been looking to expand as they’d hired a local columnist to write stories and drive traffic. After some brainstorming, the two sites combined to create SooToday, a local news site. Satisfied with the results, Elgie did some digital consultancy work for the news site but was not involved in the business side, at least not for the next 12 years. In 2013, frustrated with SooToday’s stagnant business model and seeing room to grow in the local news market as print publications closed their doors, Elgie bought a majority interest in the site and created Village Media, the umbrella company to a series of local news and community websites. The company continues to grow exponentially today. Village Media operates 21 online publications—13 of which have been launched since 2017—targeting local markets ranging from 10,000 to 150,000 people. Eleven of these publications are based in Ontario, and Village Media owns and operates them directly. The other 10, it operates in collaboration with different partners across Canada, targeting larger markets like Ottawa and Halifax that it couldn’t infiltrate on its own. In 2017, Nieman Lab reported that the company had 35 employees with 26 million pages views per month across all sites. Today, Village Media’s original site, SooToday, has gained a massive following and is “read by an average of 50,000 people on any given day,” according to their website. One of Village Media’s joint ventures is HalifaxToday, operated
in collaboration with NEWS 95.7, a radio station owned by Rogers Media. Like all of Village Media’s publications, the site focuses on local news, covering beats like city council, obituaries, and its “Midweek Mugging”—local business profiles—giving free access to all its content. “For a local market, I do not believe in a paywall,” Elgie says. “You will not see us move to that or a subscription model because I think reach is most important. I think for us to be effective in terms of doing our job and distributing the work that we do from a journalism standpoint, but also doing our job in terms of driving value for clients, then we need to reach as many people locally as we can.” Instead, Village Media has transposed the print model of display advertising onto the internet. The company receives about 70 percent of its revenue from local advertising and about 12 percent from national advertising. The rest comes from a combination of licensing its technology and a voluntary pay program where readers can pledge $5 or more a month, or pay a one-time fee of $50 or more to support the site. Much of the advertising revenue comes from its online classified page. “We sell a supercharged yellow pages,” Elgie says. “Essentially a local business directory engine that links into our classified engine, so businesses can post and pay for jobs or real estate listings or automotive listings.” It’s very similar to a site like Craigslist—one of the original culprits guilty of stealing classifieds away from print—but on a hyperlocal level.
But Rob Young, the senior vice president of planning services at PHD Canada, a media company in Toronto, isn’t sure the online advertising model is designed to last. “It’s gone with the wind because the amount of money the Globe and Mail can charge or the Star can charge for a display ad is much lower than the amount of money they can charge for a full page, black and white ad,” he says. “They’re trading dollars for pennies.” Meaning online advertisers are only paying publications a fraction of what they would have paid for a print advertisement. And this is compounded by the fact that, in 2016, 72 percent of the Canadian internet advertising market was consumed by Google and Facebook. But Elgie is optimistic. “There’s a whole different mindset that I think you have to shift to and unfortunately a lot of our larger chains have not done that fast enough,” he says. While sites like Google and Facebook are hoarding online ad dollars, they’re also Village Media’s largest distributors, spreading its content to a wide audience. “At the heart of it all, in my opinion, is that local audience,” Elgie says. “That’s what we seek to build and protect. We’ll figure out how to monetize it, but if we don’t have a local, large following, then we can’t deliver value to anyone.”
IN 2012, NIEMAN FELLOW DAVID SKOK AND NEW YORK TIMES best-selling author James Allworth co-wrote a paper with renowned innovation expert and academic Clayton Christensen on disruption in the journalism industry. The paper, “Breaking News,” stresses that new entrants into the industry are able to establish footholds in the market by producing a product or service that provides a solution to an everyday problem. But the solution must be faster and more personalized than what’s come before. The paper points to HuffPost, founded in 2005, and BuzzFeed, founded in 2006, as examples. Both digital media companies took full advantage of the internet’s ephemeral nature, churning out entertaining news, native content, easy-to-read listicles, sponsored quizzes, and attention-grabbing headlines all designed to drive views. They then used the incoming revenue from advertisers to fund hard-hitting pieces of journalism—pieces that were being anthologized and nominated for Pulitzer Prizes—that ate away at the customer base of incumbent legacy media. Because the two companies are packaged differently than legacy media’s typical competitors, established publications were slow to react. But despite early success, the market has caught up to both companies as they face down internal cuts. In January of this year, multiple news organizations reported that Buzzfeed was making a 15 percent cut to their staff, and that HuffPost’s parent company, Verizon, was cutting seven percent of its media division. Skok, however, made it very clear during a Canadian Journalism Foundation (CJF) panel at Google Toronto last October, that disruption to the journalism industry goes beyond the clickbait model. In fact, it never ends. “In any industry, in any cycle, there are businesses
“ I don’t believe newspapers at a local level are going to be sustainable 10 years out” – Jeff Elgie Village Media’s advertising rates depend on what publication the ads run in, so the more frequented the site, the more expensive the ad cost. SooToday, for instance, charges $18 per CPM—the price for every 1,000 impressions on an advertisement—for an ad that appears on the site’s sidebar. It also charges $100 to $200 per hour for an alert banner, while its sister site CollingwoodToday charges $25 to $50 per hour for the same banner. For now, the online advertising model is working. “The organization operates right around break even, but that’s by design,” Elgie says. “If we wanted to make a bunch of money, we’d stop growing and just run our mature sites and let the other ones catch up. But we’re more interested in growth.” Village Media’s mature markets are profitable, with their revenue going toward supporting new launches. “Our interest is to be dominant in Ontario in markets up to 150,000 people that we own and operate.”
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that are marching up the disruption curve, and they do that in the pursuit of profits,” he said. “As they continue to pursue profits, they move up the disruption curve by increasing their margins and by essentially having to do more for more people. And by doing that, they open themselves up and create vulnerability at the bottom of the market for new entrants.” With experience working as managing editor and vice-president of digital at the Boston Globe, and as the head of editorial strategy for the Star, Skok is well aware of the journalism market’s vulnerabilities. In February 2017, he left the Star, saying the publication—and legacy media as a whole—no longer felt like a good fit. Instead, he prepared to launch his own disruption. In June 2018, he started the Logic, an online publication that covers Canada’s innovation economy, which, according to Skok, means, “We’re focused on the future of the country.” The Logic’s website gives a less vague answer, saying its mandate is to cover organizations, policies, and people driving transformational change. One of the Logic’s ongoing series is an in-depth look at Toronto’s collaboration with Sidewalk Labs and their plans to build a smart city. According to Skok, the Logic is moving toward aligning their editorial, business, and product departments, meaning journalists will not only know how to write a story but also how to sell it. “Where I think you see legacy media fall short is that those were all siloed areas,” Skok says. “Any business model you choose for any business you’re trying to transform…you have to link those three things together if you’re going to be successful.” Initially funded by friends and family, the Logic’s revenue, similar to allNovaScotia, is derived from a paywall. The site avoids advertising, requiring a subscription to access most content. The price of a subscription is $299.99 per year—approximately $25 per month—but can only be purchased as a year-long subscription rather than in monthly increments. The issue with this model is that forcing readers to pay for content limits accessibility. “I’m just not a believer in a hard paywall,” says Don Day, a former John S. Knight Fellow and the publisher of BoiseDev, a business news site based out of Idaho. “It cuts off community access to people who can’t afford or will not pay for local news, which I think is a problem.” In defence of the Logic’s costly price, Skok cited Tesla’s creation of the first modern electric car during the CJF panel. “In being first to market with a very expensive product…they were [eventually] able to bear it out and get to a cheaper price,” he said. “We are in early days here, and while today [you] can say, ‘David, not everybody can afford the Logic.’ You’re absolutely right. But down the road…they may be able to.” When interviewed, Skok did not elaborate much on what initiatives would help lower the subscription price, and refused to reveal how many subscribers the site has. For now, he plans to stick with the subscription model as his main source of revenue, supplemented by the occasional sponsored event. “You often hear people talking about startups need[ing] to have really diverse revenue streams. I
actually disagree. In our case, we’re not reinventing the wheel. We need to be singularly focused on producing great work and focused on our readers having a great experience,” he says. The Logic has nine employees—including Skok—four reporters, one copy editor, a contributing editor based out of San Francisco, a head of growth, and a subscriber success manager. Their plan moving forward is to “reach sustainability as soon as possible.”
BY 2014, ERIN MILLAR, A VANCOUVER-BASED JOURNALIST with a focus on education, had grown frustrated with the current journalistic landscape. She’d launched Maclean’s magazine’s On Campus, a website devoted to daily news on post-secondary educa-
“ In 2016, 72 percent of the Canadian internet advertising market was taken in by Google and Facebook”
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tion, and had been teaching an annual, upper-level journalism class at Quest University in Squamish, British Columbia, since 2012. Yet publications remained inflexible, giving her little control over the kinds of stories she wrote. Millar decided to team up with fellow journalists Colleen Kimmett, a former editor at the Tyee with an interest in food and health, and Christine McLaren, a freelance journalist and researcher with an urban development beat. “We were all sort of frustrated with the work that we were able to do within the system, and this was really during the period—that is continuing—where there’s just a ton of cutbacks, and we wanted to be doing really meaningful work that had a positive impact,” Millar says. “It was harder and harder to be able to access the opportunities to do the kind of in-depth, meaty reporting that we wanted to be doing.” In March of that year, the three women launched the Discourse, which started as a team of journalists producing nationally relevant investigative projects in collaboration with other media, free for anyone to access. For instance, they collaborated with HuffPost Canada and the Aboriginal Peoples Television Network (APTN) to create a database that tracks the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion throughout Alberta and British Columbia, and how it affects Indigenous communities. To fund these stories, the Discourse tapped into an eclectic mix of revenue sources. Between 2014 and 2016, other media outlets financed 22 percent of the Discourse’s revenue. Thirty-five percent came from philanthropic or non-profit funding partners like the McConnell Foundation, a private Canadian foundation that supports
innovative approaches to social, cultural, economic, and environmental challenges; 2 percent came from crowdfunding; 10 percent came from research reports the company produced for various foundations; 11 percent came from workshops and public talks given at conferences and universities about the future of journalism, among other topics; 12 percent came from consulting; and the remaining eight percent came from other sources like renting out desk space to freelancers. In 2017, the Discourse launched an investment campaign through FrontFundr where people could invest as little as $250, purchasing shares in the company. At the time, J-Source reported that the publication was valued at $4.25 million. The goal was to raise $500,000 through the campaign, with Nieman Lab stating the publication already had $446,000 before the campaign started. But it fell short of its investment goal, raising only $324,530 from 226 investors. It was the following year, in 2018, that the Discourse narrowed its revenue streams, introducing the membership model, where readers are prompted to join as members and are given the option to pay what they can with $15 per month being the average cost of a membership. Though members may also join for free. “It’s not [a] subscription,” Millar says. “It’s not like you’re paying to get access to content that’s behind a paywall. Instead, you’re paying to join a community who are working together to create better public discourse that is having an impact on their community.” The Discourse also receives funds through partnerships with community organizations sponsoring the publication’s work, such as Reconciliation Canada, the Canadian Association of Journalists, and the University of British Columbia’s School of Community and Regional Planning. “It’s not sponsored content in the sense that they have anything to do with editorial or choosing topics or anything like that,” Millar says. “They literally choose to support our work because they see that having evidence-based, balanced reporting in their community is important to the health of the democracy and they want to support that.” In the fall of 2018, the Discourse decided to shift the focus of its investigations from national news to underserved communities. “The projects that we’d done in past years...that were most successful were really rooted in a certain place and were based on real relationships with people. That’s why we took this turn,” Millar says. The publication zeroed in on three communities: Urban Nation in British Columbia’s lower mainland, Cowichan Valley on Vancouver Island, and its most recent venture as of October 2018, Scarborough in Toronto’s east end. the Discourse decided upon these three areas through a data analysis of journalistically underserved communities. Millar says the data analysis they used looks for three qualities in the identified communities: youth, dynamism, and diversity. “Usually [these communities] are pretty fast growing. And one of the reasons is that the communities that the advertising model incentivizes media outlets to serve are generally affluent and a little bit older. So, that’s one of the reasons that there’s these young, dynamic audiences that are being underserved.” And with the advent of streaming services like Netflix, young adults are becoming more accustomed
to paying for services online. According to Vividata’s January 2019 study, Millennials and GenXers do the most digital reading. Attracting these readers, however, is dependent on the Discourse making their content relevant enough to be paid for voluntarily. The Discourse has a team of 20, including 13 fulltime and seven contractors, with plans to expand to three new, yet-to-be-determined, underserved communities. Yet Millar declined to say whether the company is profitable. She did, however, mention that she is raising venture capital, and was quoted in a 2017 Nieman Lab article saying she expected the publication to reach profitability by 2019’s fourth quarter. She also wouldn’t share the Discourse’s total number of members, but according to their FrontFundr page, the goal is to have 30,000 members by 2020.
LINDA SOLOMON WOOD STARTED HER JOURNALISM CAREER in 1979 at the Tennessean, a daily newspaper out of Nashville, Tennessee. She studied journalism and American culture at Northwestern University and received a Master of Fine Arts in literary nonfiction from the Vermont College of Fine Arts. In 1981, she left the Tennessean, moving to Paris and then New York as she freelanced for publications like the Los Angeles Times, Orion, and the International Herald Tribune. She was living in New York in 2001 when the planes crashed into the World Trade Center. Wary of the nationalistic direction America seemed to be headed, she and her husband packed up their kid and moved to Vancouver. In 2006, inspired by Arianna Huffington of HuffPost, Solomon Wood launched the Vancouver Observer, a hyperlocal blog delivering daily news on Vancouver. In 2009, she began expanding, hiring interns and contracting other roles to broaden its scope. One of the first big areas of coverage was the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver. But revenue did not come quickly. “I had gone into the whole thing thinking, naively, that the ad dollars were going to shift from print to digital,” Solomon Wood says. But “it didn’t ever flow easily.” The site had also transitioned. With the help of added staff, she began reporting intensely on energy and the environment. The site did manage to break even in its last few years on a budget of $220,000, mainly through advertising. And in 2012—the year Solomon Wood became a Canadian citizen—the Vancouver Observer won the Canadian Journalism Foundation’s Excellence in Journalism award. But the acceptance was bittersweet. “I went to Toronto to accept the award and spoke in front of like 500 people there, and it was incredible,” Solomon Wood says. “But then I had to come home and cut what had been our staff because we were just out of money.” However, the lack of funds did not curb Solomon Wood’s ambition. That same year, Observer Media Group, the media production corporation Solomon Wood founded in 2011, received $25,000 from its first investor. She used the money to hire a few reporters: two UBC grads fresh out of the masters of journalism program, and one young journalist. “At that point, we were literally in my SPRING 2019 | RYERSON REVIEW OF JOURNALISM 93
living room/dining room area, but we were breaking stories,” she says. In 2014, the Vancouver Observer once again won the Canadian Journalism Foundation’s Excellence in Journalism award for a pool of stories, including one about Canada’s Security Intelligence Review Committee chair Chuck Strahl, who had registered as a lobbyist for Enbridge. This acceptance rung with excitement as Solomon Wood announced to the crowd the launch of the National Observer, an online news site breaking national stories on energy politics. “Our operation will spread from Vancouver to Toronto to the Maritimes,” she said during her acceptance speech. Their reporting on energy and pipelines had outgrown the local brand, and the Vancouver Observer was relegated back to a hyperlocal news blog staffed by contributions from local writers. The National Observer officially launched in April 2015, relying on funds from three new investors, and revenue from a Kickstarter campaign, raising $80,939 of their $100,000 goal from 574 backers between February 13 and March 15, 2015. With the money, the publication continued pursuing ground-breaking news, running a series on the Irving family’s media monopoly in New Brunswick, and the Koch brothers’ involvement in climate politics in Alberta. But these stories—the Irving series in particular—took a toll on the publication. They went back and forth with the Irvings’ lawyers, defending the investigation, taking up valuable time and resources. And in 2015, the site only brought in about $700 from banner ads. Surprising, considering the Ryerson Review of Journalism reported in a 2016 article that the site saw its readership quadruple to 1.2 million unique readers between April and November of 2015. Money grew tight and Solomon Wood didn’t want to keep relying on Kickstarter to fund the publication. So, in 2016, Solomon Wood announced that the site would launch a soft paywall, avoiding the complete inaccessibility of allNovaScotia by giving access to two free articles for non-subscribers and charging $11.99 per month or $129.99 per year. As of 2019, the site offers three free articles and charges a subscription price of $12.99 per month or $139.99 per year. And benefactors looking to fund special coverage are asked to pay $199.99 per year. The site has 500,000 average monthly views, and in a January 2018 interview with Nieman Lab, Solomon Wood said approximately 250,000 people had access to the site, including group subscriptions. The paywall now makes up half the publication’s revenue, allowing it to expand to a team of 17 headquartered in Victoria, Vancouver, Toronto, Ottawa, and Montreal. The other half of the Observer’s revenue comes from collaborations with foundations such as the United Way of the Lower Mainland that supported a story on Syrian refugees, Tides Canada that supported a story on the Great Bear Rainforest, and support from Heritage Canada’s Canadian Periodical Fund in 2018, among other foundations. “They basically provide funding for us to go and [report], and then we own the material together,” Solomon Wood says. She makes it clear that the foundations have no involvement in editorial decisions. But despite the growing subscription base, the site still hasn’t
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reached profitability, and Solomon Wood is now raising $1 million in venture capital. “I’ve brought in $630,000 since February first , and that is investment that goes to growing [and] scaling up our subscription drive,” she says. With the minimum investment being $100,000, she’s targeting high rollers for this capital, like Evan Hu, a tech entrepreneur and angel investor. Solomon Wood wouldn’t reveal how many subscribers the site has but to reach profitability, she says, “I calculate we need 10,000 [more] individual subscribers.”
IN 2011, OUT OF MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA, JOURNALIST Andrew Jaspan founded the Conversation as a way to encourage the free flow of information. The not-for-profit news site has academics provide the content, overseen by professional editors. The goal of the site is to have the world’s leading experts analyze and provide insight on news events and help people understand new areas of research, anything from a geodynamics professor commenting on new dinosaur extinction theories to a political science expert breaking down the resignation of a minister from parliament. The model has gained popularity and spread to the United States, United Kingdom, France, Spain, Indonesia, Africa, and, as of June 2017, Canada. Two UBC journalism professors, Mary Lynn Young and Alfred Hermida, started the Canadian version with a Partnership Development Grant from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC) worth approximately $200,000. Young and Hermida were looking for a way to strengthen the quality and reach of journalism—as of 2018, the Edelman Trust Barometer reported that only 49 percent of Canada’s general population trusts the media—while breaking up Canada’s consolidated news ownership. In a story for J-Source, Young wrote that “universities and scholars have emerged as trusted sources of expertise globally,” but “a significant portion of scholarly knowledge remains relatively hidden in expensive journals and is more often than not written for academic peers, rather than for a broad public.” The goal of the Conversation, she writes, is to reshape the role of journalists as editors and curators, helping to disseminate academic knowledge to the public. Young and Hermida appointed Scott White as the publication’s editor-in-chief. White is the former editor-in-chief of the Canadian Press and holds a Master of Business Administration from the University of Toronto’s Rotman School of Management. “From a business sense, in Canada, we have licensed the name [and] the technology from the group out of Australia, but also, journalistically, we all cooperate, so we share our content among one another. So, we’re part of this global network,” White says. Since taking over, White says the site has published academics from over 80 universities, with 95 percent of contributors being Canadian. Stories have included Western University criminology and English associate professor Michael Arntfield looking into Toronto’s Bruce McArthur and the preferred jobs of serial killers, and White trying to convince a statistics professor to write about the chances of
winning Tim Hortons’ Roll up the Rim to Win (the final story ended up being about McDonald’s Monopoly). The writers must also have an active affiliation with a Canadian university. “They can be PhD, postdoc, and anything above that. We also do sometimes use master’s students, but they need to have a professor as a co-author.” As a not-for-profit, the Conversation does not rely on advertising or subscriptions for funding, and instead is sponsored by universities that pay an annual fee of $30,000. What the universities get in return is author analytics. “They’re able to use that for a variety of ways that the university needs data to promote the work that they’re doing,” White says. “They’re interested in having their research out to a wider, non-academic audience.” According to White, increased reach for an academic’s work can be helpful for grant applications. The academics, however, do not get paid for their work, raising the question of whether personalized analytics are worth the effort. And by publishing academics, the site lessens the need for journalists, leaving one to wonder how much of a critical lens is applied to the academics’ theories. The Conversation partners with 18 Canadian universities, including Ryerson University, as well as six other foundations that assist with funding: the Canadian Institute for Health Information, Genome Canada, and the SSHRC, among others. The site has two strategic partners, Universities Canada, and the Mindset Social Innovation Foundation, that help develop the publication’s services and specific
certain tax benefits by being a not-for-profit,” White says, but since it is not a charity, it is unable to issue tax receipts. The benefits of the not-for-profit model may come to change as the government reassesses charity laws, allowing non-for-profit news organizations to accept donations and distribute tax receipts. But this doesn’t mean funding isn’t an issue. “We don’t need to make a profit, but, obviously, take away the business sense of the word profit from an operations point of view and we, as a not-for-profit, only have so much money,” White says. This lack of funding affects the publication’s ability to expand and reach a wider audience.
IN JULY 2018, A VIDEO SURFACED ON THE INTERNET SHOWING the brutal murders of four innocent people—two women and two children—by unidentified soldiers, thought to take place in either Mali or Cameroon. In September 2018, BBC Africa Eye released a video report called “Anatomy of a Killing,” wherein journalists analyzed the video using resources like Google Digital Globe and pictures from Facebook. Using tools, they were able to determine the killings took place in Cameroon, calculating a timeframe for it, and identifying the specific perpetrators, a task that would have been impossible without the use of digital technology. “If you’re not inspired to be a journalist through that then you should probably remajor into accounting or something,” says Michael Cooke, the former editor-in-chief of the Toronto Star. While BBC is by no means a recent startup, the video shows the potential of digital journalism. The possibilities are demonstrated by the startups outlined above, as they push the boundaries of digital journalism and experiment with how publications report stories and make money. But most are still in early days, and their sustainability remains in question. “They seem to have plenty of venture capital money,” but, “they just burn through dough,” Cooke says. Over 250 Canadian outlets have closed or merged since 2008, but during that time, 93 new outlets have also launched, tackling journalism in a variety of ways. “We’re just in this period of waiting,” Cooke says. “I have not yet seen a successful business model. If there is one, I’d like to know about it and I’ll have a party for them at my house.” Cooke is right: no single business model has emerged to replace print advertising and usher digital journalism into an age of stability, but success stories like allNovaScotia are reassuring. It shows that startups that read their market carefully and fill in the gaps left by legacy media can be successful. “I don’t know if 200 years ago—or whenever newspapers were invented—I don’t know if they made a profit right away. It might have taken 50 years before they were making money,” Cooke says. “The digital media’s seriously been around for about five years. So, we may have to wait a lot longer than that for it to shake out, for it to take shape in a way that can both serve... the needs of democracy...and the needs of providing people with a decent living.”
“ We don’t need to make a profit, but, obviously, as a not-for-profit, we only have so much money” – Scott White projects, as well as one technology partner, Fastly. The publication is run by a team of 18, with four board of directors overseeing operations and employees spread across Canada from Victoria to Montreal. The Canadian version of the Conversation does occasionally collaborate with the other global branches on projects, but editorially they operate independently. Across all global offices, the Conversation has an audience of 10.7 million users per month, and its content reaches 38.2 million through republication—the site allows its articles to be republished online and in print for free through a Creative Commons licence. For now, White’s main role is to broaden the Conversation’s stable of academic writers and partners by putting on workshops at universities, showing professors how to translate their research into journalistic articles. This promotes the publication and cements its funding base. But the not-for-profit model has its limitations. “We get
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The Path to Healing Diagnosing flaws and finding treatments for the way journalists report on Indigenous health issues B Y ALEX A TAYLOR
Sala Hussein loads boxes of new syringes into a vehicle out front of Sturgeon Lake Health Centre. Four-directional medicine wheels accent the building’s exterior and beams form an impressive teepee tower over its entrance. The Sturgeon Lake First Nation is located within Treaty Six boundaries and sits on the southeast banks of Sturgeon Lake, about 40 kilometres northwest of Prince Albert, Saskatchewan. Hussein, a counsellor on the reserve, says a friend who is a former addict introduced him to individuals in the area who use injection drugs. Hussein then began giving away 50–100 needles every one or two days, spurring a grassroots harm reduction movement. Today, one user’s home is a distribution hub. Hussein drops off the materials, and instead of those in need travelling to the health centre, they can pick up clean needles, as well as dispose of used ones via a trusted community member. This story is detailed in Promising Practices in Indigenous Communities in Saskatchewan, one of three short documentaries directed by Merv Thomas and Jake Hanna, and commissioned by the Canadian Aboriginal AIDS Network (CAAN). The film screened at the 2016
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International AIDS Conference in Durban, South Africa. In 2015, medical professionals denounced Saskatchewan for having HIV/ AIDS infection rates among Indigenous peoples on par with developing countries. In an effort to disrupt adverse coverage on the issue, Promising Practices offers a solutions-based take on how Indigenous communities are reclaiming their health and using culturally appropriate methods to address the province’s epidemic. Though Hussein has left his position at the Sturgeon Lake Health Centre, the harm reduction initiative lives on. While headlines on the topic read: “Lifespan of Indigenous people 15 years shorter than that of other Canadians, federal documents say” and “Mutated strains of HIV in Sask. causing AIDS-related illnesses quicker: study,” Promising Practices defies the typical narrative, spotlighting how Sturgeon Lake is tackling its HIV/AIDS numbers from the inside out. Positive framing of Indigenous health is not the norm in journalism. In 1997, American communications scholar Charles Bantz argued that news organizations normalize conflict, seeing it as routine, expected, and perhaps essential to social life. Historically, the press has painted a dismal picture of Indigenous health in Canada, often emphasizing challenges over resolutions. When journalism is solutions-based and delineates a way forward, it not only advances public discourse, but it also curbs negative perceptions of these issues, helping audiences better engage with the subject matter. However, Canadian journalists have been slow to pick it up. Saskatchewan has among the highest HIV numbers in Canada. A 2017 report published by the provincial government shows 79 percent of those diagnosed with the virus self-identify as Indigenous and 67 percent of those individuals reported drug use as a primary risk factor. Along with Sturgeon Lake, Big River First Nation and Ahtahkakoop Cree Nation, also in Saskatchewan, are at the forefront of combating HIV/AIDS. The reserves, together with the Saskatoon Tribal Council, founded Know Your Status, a campaign that combines western medicine and traditional healing, taking steps to dismantle the illness’ stigma. Big River First Nation and Ahtahkakoop Cree Nation have implemented UNAIDS 90-90-90 standards, a target where, by 2020, 90 percent of people living with HIV will know their status and be on antiretroviral therapy, a medication that reduces the risk of transmission and improves lifespans. But while Saskatchewan’s HIV numbers continue to make headlines, the positive initiatives highlighted by CAAN often aren’t a part of the story.
A 2001 article from Saskatoon’s the StarPhoenix depicts a woman named Bonnie wearing a powder-blue gown at Saskatoon City Hospital. The article, titled, “Lethal injection,” pulls no punches as it chronicles her plight, opening with the 34-year-old choking down her ninth antiretroviral pill of the day on a sunny June afternoon. It describes Bonnie as a once striking woman who, four years ago, lost her left eye to cytomegalovirus retinitis, a herpes-type virus that causes infection in advanced HIV patients. She now has a red, swollen, and bulbous right eye that is “oozing with sickness,” along with a failing liver. She will die of AIDS, the article tells us. It goes on to read that Bonnie, an Indigenous woman originally
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from Prince Albert, became a prostitute at 13 after running away from an abusive foster home. She has scars from violent johns that traverse her body top to bottom. At 16, she started smoking marijuana and, eventually, began “using needles to inject $1,400 of cocaine into her veins each day.” At 25, she was diagnosed with HIV while living in Calgary. She suspects she contracted the virus from her ex-boyfriend, who was also an intravenous drug user. Though the article notes poverty and racism as drivers of HIV, its characterization of Bonnie’s misfortune leaves little room for hope or resolution. Healthcare reporting and coverage of chronic illnesses are crucial for disseminating health information to the public and are an important part of daily news. A critical facet of journalism is to work against stigma, not contribute to it, but almost two decades after the StarPhoenix’s 2001 story on Bonnie—while Saskatchewan struggles to curb its HIV numbers—coverage of Indigenous peoples with the virus remains relatively unchanged. “Something as simple as the common cold could kill Lauren Cardinal,” reads the opening line of “Deadly Record: Inside Saskatchewan’s HIV crisis.” The 2016 article, also published in the StarPhoenix, features an image of Cardinal half-smiling with her black hair swept to the side. She leans against a white wall outside Prince Albert’s The Gate, an HIV/AIDS drop-in centre. Cardinal is described as a funny and outgoing mother of two who, seven years prior, “was an addict living on the streets, using cocaine and opiates regularly.” She contracted HIV from her then-boyfriend and was diagnosed in prison while serving time for robbery. At 32 years old, she knows 15 people who have died from AIDS and is cited as having countless friends and acquaintances who live every day with the virus, including her two brothers. Despite some hopeful aspects, the article predominantly fixates on the hard realities of being HIV-positive. Contrary to the encouraging stories featured in Promising Practices, seemingly grim anecdotes like Bonnie’s and Cardinal’s are products of the substandard coverage that’s encircled Saskatchewan’s HIV/AIDS epidemic. When it comes to Indigenous health, stories commonly centre on themes of despair, presenting members of the community as passive, powerless subjects. A thesis project submitted to the University of Saskatchewan, which analyzes social constructions of Indigenous peoples in the StarPhoenix and Regina’s Leader-Post, states that these papers frequently characterize Indigenous peoples as participating in high-risk behaviours that result in preventable illnesses, employing narratives that deem the individual responsible for their ill health. Such stereotypes are often internalized, causing a sense of shame and presenting further barriers to marginalized groups. The 2004 StarPhoenix column “Risky lifestyles contribute to rampant AIDS” reads, “In Canada, between two and three Aboriginal persons are infected with AIDS each day. Canada records about 4,000 new cases of AIDS each year, with 26 percent of them in the Aboriginal population…The condition only gets worse if the infected person doesn’t change his or her lifestyle and continues to use drugs and live on the street.” The editorial says drug addiction, crime, and AIDS are symptoms of poverty, but provides little context on the
“ When it comes to Indigenous health, stories commonly centre on themes of despair, presenting members of the community as passive, powerless subjects” systemic issues that have made Indigenous peoples more susceptible to chronic illness. Alika Lafontaine, an anesthesiologist of Cree and Ojibwe heritage who grew up on Treaty 4 territory in Regina, as well as the recipient of the Public Policy Forum’s first Emerging Indigenous Leader award, has dedicated much of his career to addressing Indigenous health disparities. Health reporting that focuses on a patient’s lifestyle choices, including their previous drug use or run-ins with the law, is ineffective, Lafontaine says. He doesn’t exclusively criticize journalism, as such narratives are a byproduct of Canada’s history. Instead, he notes stories should shift the onus to the real, systemic problems that cause these health issues: the ways clinicians practice, the unequal distribution of healthcare resources, and the social inequalities that make some groups more prone to chronic illnesses than others. Even today, much reporting on the issue remains infused with despairing undertones. The 2018 Canadian Press article “Newly diagnosed HIV cases in Sask. increase for third straight year” ends with a quote from Saskatchewan’s deputy chief medical health officer Denise Werker, which spotlights complications, not solutions: “The persons that have these infections have multiple issues that they are grappling with…There is no magic bullet to improve the lives of these people,” she says, calling the challenges in Saskatchewan “huge.”
The first order of business in Duncan McCue’s Reporting in Indigenous Communities guide is unpacking the concept of the “Indian.” McCue, an Anishinaabe journalist at CBC and an adjunct professor of journalism at the University of British Columbia, recounts printing the term on chalkboards in journalism classrooms and asking students to shout out words that come to mind. The list usually consists of describers like “tomahawk chop,” “Pocahontas,” and “headdress,” as well as “welfare,” “poverty,” and “drunk.” Daniel Francis’s The Imaginary Indian dedicates an entire book to unpacking this settler invention, writing that the “Indian” has been an image mythologized by Canadian culture since 1850 and is responsible for stereotypes that still exist today. What does this have to do with journalism? Well, McCue outlines the long history of non-Indigenous peoples venturing into Indigenous communities (explorers, anthropologists, missionaries, and photographer, all responsible for both creating and disseminating harmful perceptions of First Peoples) asking about their lives and then leaving. “You are the latest in a long line of storytellers,” he writes, “requesting permission to portray Aboriginal peoples to the
world.” And, due to longstanding stereotypes of Indigenous peoples that continue to crop up in contemporary TV newscasts and the front pages of newspapers, journalists must get it right. Nelson Bird, a long-time reporter and now an assignment editor at CTV News Regina, is all too familiar with such tropes. Before breaking into journalism, Bird worked for the government of Saskatchewan. He recalls many of his colleagues telling him they had never met or spoken to an Indigenous person and were surprised Bird, who grew up on Peepeekisis Cree Nation, had a car, worked in the city, and went about a typical, suburban life. This experience, in part, inspired him to educate those who were non-Indigenous about his community, covering topics like his reserve, First Peoples’ cultural practices, and the racism and systemic inequalities of Canadian society. Bird switched gears and graduated from the University of Regina in 1997 with degrees in journalism and communications, and Indigenous studies, determined to add a diverse perspective to the news media landscape. Approaching his graduation, Bird recalls being “disgusted” by how some press were depicting Pamela George, an Indigenous woman who was killed by Steven Kummerfield and Alex Ternowetsky— two 20-year-old Regina men—in a case that galvanized national attention. During the trial, the court heard that Kummerfield and Ternowetsky, both white, were driving the Regina streets looking to pick up a sex worker. When they picked up George, they took her to a remote area near the airport and beat her to death. The men were charged with first-degree murder but were convicted of manslaughter, sparking public outcry. The headlines were inflammatory, using bigoted terms like “prostitute” and “Indian.” Bird says such titles helped further dehumanize George, as well as the Indigenous community as a whole. In opposition, reporters positioned Kummerfield and Ternowetsky as university students under the influence of alcohol, and products of middle-class homes.
In 1922, Peter Henderson Bryce, a founding member of the Canadian Public Health Association, published The Story of a National Crime: An Appeal for Justice to the Indians of Canada, revealing that 24 percent of residential school students were dying each year from treatable diseases. The document provided evidence of the government of Canada’s complicity in preserving these dire conditions, reporting that children were living in unsafe buildings, being subjected to inadequate nutrition, and facing high infection rates of tuberculosis. Despite Bryce’s findings, residential schools persisted for decades, with Saskatchewan’s Gordon Residential SPRING 2019 | RYERSON REVIEW OF JOURNALISM 99
School the last to close in 1996. Though journalism is expected to be objective, the authors of Seeing Red: A History of Natives in Canadian Newspapers reveal this is not always the case. Their research examines representations of Indigenous peoples in Canadian-English language newspapers between 1869 and 2011, and reports moral depravity, racial inferiority, and an inability to progress as the most common tropes of First Peoples perpetuated by news outlets. The book’s analysis spans major events including the purchase of Rupert’s Land, the 1885 Northwest Rebellion, the 1974 Anicinabe Park standoff, and the 1990 Oka land standoff. Today, crisis remains at the forefront of Indigenous coverage. McCue’s Reporting in Indigenous Communities guide cites a study by the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples, which concludes media images that focus on conflict and confrontation make communication and reconciliation harder to achieve, situating First Peoples as “unknowable” and a “threat to civil order.” To foster reconciliation between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Canadians, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada (TRC) issued 94 calls to action in June 2015 after gathering six years’ worth of testimonies from residential school survivors. Action items 84, 85, and 86 are directed at Canadian news organizations, acknowledging the power of journalism in education and increasing public awareness. But despite strides made by the TRC, there is still work to be done. The 2016 version of Buried Voices, an Ontario media monitoring report published by Journalists for Human Rights, states that from June 2013 to June 2014, 0.3 percent of news stories in Ontario “broadly” had to do with Indigenous peoples (the report defined this as relating to politics or issues, Peoples and topics). That number only slightly improved to 0.5 percent between June 1, 2015 to March 31, 2016. In the report, Jorge Barrera, a journalist with CBC’s Indigenous unit, writes, “Stories of Canada’s first peoples are failing to break through the surface.”
André Picard, the Globe and Mail’s long-time health journalist, has been writing about HIV/AIDS for over 30 years, beginning with its emergence in Canada. A summer student at the Globe in the 1980s, he covered most of the developing news on the epidemic as it continued to grow into a serious story, one he still reports on today. The virus has a history of moving quickly among marginalized groups, but Picard, who has also written prolifically on Indigenous peoples, says these communities didn’t surface as highrisk in news coverage of HIV/AIDS until the mid-1990s. In a 2017 interview with Chatelaine, Picard called Indigenous health Canada’s most urgent issue. “We have an apartheid system designed to oppress people, and it’s given the exact results it was designed to produce,” he says. “Take away their culture, their language, their ability to earn money, their ability to have land, and then, oh, we’re surprised they’re the unhealthiest people in our country? It’s not a surprise at all.” To that point, and to more effectively report on Indigenous health, journalists can weave background into their stories, providing the public with a lens to understand how such social gaps material-
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“ To more effectively report on Indigenous health, journalists can weave background into their stories, providing the public with a lens to understand how social gaps materialized”
ized. “The hardest [part] of our job, and the thing [journalists] do least well, is contextualize,” says Picard, commenting on the areas in which coverage of HIV/AIDS, and First Peoples more generally, can be better. Besides history, context can also include highlighting the gravity of the gaps and the breadth of the problem while still presenting the issues as solvable. “As the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada said, there has to be reconciliation within the journalism world as well,” Picard says. “To tell stories better and to tell them more accurately.” Joining the fray, Gitxsan reporter Angela Sterritt writes in the CBC article “Reporting on Indigenous Communities: 5 tips to get it right” that there are ways to include nuanced and comprehensive reporting in a news piece, adding that even one extra line can make a story more informative. “If you’re looking at the effect, you also need to look at the cause,” she writes. The cause should be found in the question: “Do you know why you put a needle in your arm?” says Margaret Poitras, referencing the trauma many Indigenous peoples continue to face. Poitras, the CEO of All Nations Hope Network, a Regina organization pivotal to providing culturally-appropriate support to Indigenous peoples with HIV and Hepatitis C, notes that care and treatment are only part of the solution to lowering Saskatchewan’s HIV numbers, though they don’t penetrate the root of the problem. Canadian news media tends to utilize three different frameworks or models when covering Indigenous peoples and HIV/AIDS, according to research published in a social science and medicine report. Most common is the medical model, which focuses on western medicine and emphasizes harm reduction and treatment options via pharmaceutical drugs, like antiretroviral therapy. Next is the social-structural model, which connects the dots between disease and socioeconomic factors, highlighting links between poor health and ethnicity, gender, and class. Last is the lifestyle model, which centres on individual choice and behaviours, with the reporting often chastising the sexual habits or drug use of those who have chronic illnesses. However, an essential and often forgotten piece of the puzzle—although it has grown more common over the years— is Indigenous culture and identity as ingredients for care and prevention. While it’s important for journalists to recognize points of adversity, using any of the three models alone only tells half the story. The Canadian Journal of Public Health notes that Western medicine has been predominantly shaped by colonial politics and is a system that has historically excluded Indigenous peoples from healthcare. But the Indigenous wellness model is all encompassing—it draws from a place of understanding the person in subject, including mental, spiritual, emotional, and physical healing.
halted after all but one of Piapot’s grandparents were forcefully sent to residential schools, losing their mother tongue and suffering abuse. And in the early 1990s, when Piapot was still a child, her mother, Elvina, was diagnosed with HIV. Piapot is the first person in her family to graduate from both high school and university. Throughout her journalism career, she has thoroughly covered issues of importance to Indigenous communities with powerfully compelling reporting. Her 2019 CBC article on Jeremiah Manitopyes, known by his stage name Drezus, an Indigenous rapper who grew up in Saskatchewan, delves into how the musician is addressing misogyny and challenging men to “step up” for the women in their lives. And even when her reporting takes a sombre tone, like her 2018 J-Source op-ed on how reporting on the Colten Boushie murder trial impacted her emotionally, Piapot brings a unique perspective to the table, understanding first-hand the racism imbued within the case. Piapot attributes her insatiable ambition, as well as her success, to her mother, who wanted her to thrive, not just survive. She reflects on an unforgettable moment when Elvina reminded her that her capan (Cree for great-great-grandfather), Chief Piapot, signed treaties so she could have any opportunity, on her home territory, like anyone else. Though her mother lived 25 years with the virus, Piapot says HIV wasn’t Elvina’s identity, meaning news coverage of Indigenous peoples with HIV must show their humanity. Piapot describes her mother as humorous, cheeky, and endlessly fierce. Someone who “dabbled in fashion design and loved to write,” and who lived life unapologetically. Knowing the delicate relationship Indigenous communities have with the press, Piapot hopes reporters will continue to better educate themselves about First Peoples with HIV/AIDS, representing them as more than addicts—highlighting their resilience while including important history in their stories. “Indigenous peoples are the youngest, fastest growing population in the country,” Piapot says. “Indigenous issues aren’t going anywhere. It’s not a fad or a trend. It’s ongoing.”
Ntawnis Piapot feels she got her journalistic talents
Today, a search for news on Saskatchewan’s HIV/AIDS
from her great-grandmother who, during long winter nights, would go door-to-door sharing oral histories in Cree with members of the community. Piapot, who grew up in Regina and is a member of Piapot First Nation on Treaty 4 territory, is also a CBC journalist and recipient of the 2018 CJF-CBC Indigenous Journalism Fellowship. But her family’s passing down of the Cree language was largely
epidemic aggregates some hopeful results, with an increase in solutions-based journalism. Stories are honing in on community initiatives, holistic, culturally-appropriate care, and positive anecdotes. The 2019 CBC article “Saskatchewan tries ‘new and innovative’ way to expand HIV testing” highlights a new project out of Queen City Wellness Pharmacy in Regina, where pharmacists, not just doctors,
can now administer rapid point-of-care tests. A finger prick can, in under two minutes, preliminarily determine whether a patient may be HIV positive. In 2017, a year after the release of Promising Practices, Stewart Skinner, a clinician at the University of Saskatchewan, received a $2 million grant from the Canadian Institute of Health Research to refine and expand Know Your Status. The Leader-Post published the 2018 follow-up, revealing that the campaign, which was developed by Big River First Nation in 2010, has now evolved into 11 different outreach sites throughout Saskatchewan, with the initiative not only growing but adapting to meet each community’s specific needs. The article acknowledges the incredible work happening within many First Nations, with nearly half of all Know Your Status participants being part of the Indigenous community, including chiefs and those living with the infection. Despite Canadian news media’s rather grim legacy covering First Peoples, the TRC’s summary report points to the press as a potential arena for the promotion of social justice, as well as the expression of Indigenous identity. Moreover, decolonized storytelling—which draws attention to Indigenous peoples’ strengths and resilience—is cropping up more frequently. Solutions-based journalism not only adds nuanced perspectives to the news media landscape but expands the types of reporting that have historically shaped coverage of Indigenous communities and HIV/AIDS over the past two decades. At the University of Saskatchewan, former StarPhoenix and now CBC reporter Jason Warick speaks on a panel at the 2016 Reconciliation and the Media conference. Standing before the crowd, he tells them of his travels to Duck Lake, a town located in the province’s boreal forest, to bring an offering of tobacco to the now-deceased Cree cultural icon Tyrone Tootoosis. A prolific activist and storyteller, Tootoosis’s legacy includes correcting historical inaccuracies, such as an effort to have Parks Canada stop using the word “siege” to describe the 1885 events at Fort Battleford, and his role in the development of Wanuskewin Heritage Park, a cultural complex near Saskatoon. Prefacing his anecdote, Warick says all journalists can improve their coverage of Indigenous peoples by asking questions and seeking more information, whether that means reading an Indigenous media publication or going for coffee with an Indigenous studies professor. So, in preparation for his speech, Warick consulted Tootoosis, a source trusted by many journalists, asking if he had any advice for how non-Indigenous reporters can further their relationship with Indigenous communities, improving their work in this area. “Tell the truth,” he responded. “That’s all we want…and the truth isn’t always what’s immediately in front of you.” SPRING 2019 | RYERSON REVIEW OF JOURNALISM 101
Searching for Solutions A new way to report on social issues B Y DAVID VENN ILLUSTRATION BY DAVE DONALD
HOMELESSNESS IS A HARSH REALITY on the streets of Vancouver. Over the years, it has been a prime subject for media and politicians, with newspapers delivering their hot takes on the issue. Yet, awareness of the homelessness problem didn’t lead to enough change. That is, until a veteran reporter strapped on his rigorous reporting helmet and tried a different approach.
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IN 2010, VANCOUVER HAD 1,715 HOMELESS PEOPLE, a nine percent increase from 2008. Digging deeper into the issue, homelessness was growing twice as quickly as the city’s population between 2008 and 2009. The report detailing this, Eberle Planning and Research’s Vancouver Homeless Count 2010, was released in June of that year, a few months after the Winter Olympic Games took over the city, evicting the homeless from the streets on which they had lived. “Dark side of Vancouver’s Olympic flame,” reads a headline in Britain’s the Daily Telegraph. “In an alleyway near the corner of Hastings and Main Streets, addicts openly smoked crack pipes and shot up heroin, others slumped listlessly in doorways or mumbled incoherently,” wrote the author, Philip Sherwell. “Homelessness doubled ahead of Vancouver Olympics, report shows,” reads the headline for Stephen Hui’s article in the Georgia Straight. Hui outlined how although there was social housing being built between 2001 and 2008, the amount of units per 1,000 people in Metro Vancouver had declined due to the rise in the homeless population. In 2014, the Vancouver Courier’s headline read, “Homeless population largest in Vancouver’s history,” and, three years later, the paper ran this headline: “Vancouver’s homeless population bigger than ever”. Both stories were by the same reporter. But Monte Paulsen, then a reporter for the Tyee, based in Vancouver, sought a different approach to telling a cyclical story. The final product was a three-part series on homelessness in Vancouver with a possible built-in, crossdisciplinary solution. The headlines read, “Green and Affordable Homes, Out of the Box,” “Is this Canada’s Most Affordable Green Home?,” and “Homeless Housing For Less.” The articles first take the reader through the history of shipping containers in Vancouver. Being Canada’s busiest port city, more than two million 20-foot-long shipping containers arrived from Asia, leaving tens of thousands behind. In 2009, approximately 93,000 units were deserted at the port. Paulsen reported on cities from Maquiladora, Mexico to London, England that successfully use these containers as housing units. He then scoured Vancouver, talking to government officials, designers, land developers, and architects, asking the same thing: “Hey, is this possible?” The stories created so much interest that a few days later, the Tyee covered Architecture for Humanity’s “superchallenge” design competition. Stakeholders from multiple industries gathered, participated, and conceptualized, eventually finalizing a solution. “They created a design studio and got all these brilliant people together to create a prototype in one day of what this would look like, and they said, ‘See! It can be done,’” says David Beers, founding editor of the Tyee. On August 1, 2013, Atira Women’s Resource Society cut the ribbon on 12 shipping containers, welded into a three-storey, 12-unit social housing complex. In 2017, Vancouver’s mayor unveiled a 40-unit modular housing unit, prompting him to say, “The numbers work. It’s minimal cost to the city. It’s something that generates enough income to operate with a small subsidy.” He continued: “This is an example of the kind of creative and innovative ideas that we need more of,” speaking to different ways to solve the problem of lack of housing. “[Paulsen] spent weeks and months on this, and wrote brilliantly about it,” Beers says. “Like a honey bee, he moved around society.”
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“ The idea is that by reporting on responses to problems, it can provide larger impact, more insight, increased engagement, and examine stories in closer detail”
These stories would be called what is now being increasingly recognized as solutions journalism. The idea is that reporting on responses to problems, can provide larger impact, more insight, increased engagement, and examine issues in closer detail by looking at the other side of stories we rarely see. How are we doing better? It’s a shift in focus and mindset for publications and their employees; a new lens for professionals to look through. It’s not about hero worship or telling heartwarming stories about your neighbourhood bake sale. It’s about compiling anecdotes, facts, interviews, and research to tell stories about positive impact. Sure, journalism has always held top dogs accountable, but how often has it done that and warranted a heart emoji from grandma on Facebook?
THE CONCEPT OF SOLUTIONS JOURNALISM has been gaining traction over the past decade across the country and around the world. HuffPost Canada has an impact section, the Guardian has The Upside, the New York Times has Fixes. It’s had different names throughout journalism’s history: solutions, constructive, futurefocused. Beers called it future-focused during his first few years of discovering the new genre, admitting that he thought the term solutions was a bit “presumptuous.” Solutions journalism appeals to an audience that craves positivity, something to uplift the weighty blues of child malnourishment, environmental degradation, racism, and other societal issues. Delphine Ruaro’s “Engaging Audiences through Solutions Journalism: Effects on Mood, Behaviour and Attitude Toward the Newspaper (2017),” a journal article published by the London School of Economics and Political Science, says that a sizeable amount of public criticism of media is the industry’s focus on conflict. This has resulted in a loss of confidence. “These criticisms are justified,” she writes. “Newspapers have been evidenced to be negatively biased, and to have a negative effect on readers [causing anxiety and fatigue].” It’s tough to distinguish the exact moment when solutions journalism became a thing— the answers vary among practicing industry professionals and academics who study the subject. In fact, throughout history, journalists have covered stories that would today be considered examples of solutions journalism. They just didn’t have the tag then. But by understanding
what motivates those who advocate for it more broadly, we can see the movement’s visionary capacity. In 1991, Beers was assigned by Vogue to travel to Europe and report on ideas about harm reduction for drug abusers. His stories included information, data, and sources about the measures of prescribing drugs, safe injection sites, and other “strange ideas that no one had really thought about.” Vogue later cut the story before it could be published, deeming it too pro-drug. But Beers didn’t give up. He continued researching and reporting in Los Angeles. The result of that effort was finally published in a more welcoming place, Mother Jones magazine, in an article called “Just Say Woah.” Beers was at the forefront of a hot topic, considering America’s war on drugs and “aggressive drug enforcement policy,” which lasted half a century and cost American taxpayers over one trillion dollars, according to Glen Olives Thompson’s Slowly Learning the Hard Way: US America’s War on Drugs and Implications for Mexico from 2014, which looks back at America’s unsuccessful plight. Back in 1991 in Vancouver, the headlines continued to devastate. The homelessness problem was dismal. It was all about fighting, like an actual war. “The whole harm reduction [idea] was a different way of looking at it and having better results,” says Beers, looking at the more solutions-based way of reporting on the problem. In 1986, Beers wrote about suburban sprawl and its implications on the environment and land usage. The investigative piece looked at the seemingly inevitable fate of infinite suburban business parks in San Francisco’s Bay Area. It was called “Tomorrowland.” Peter Calthorpe, who was, at the time, a California State architect and lecturing at University of California, Berkeley, was frustrated with the article’s negative slant and gave Beers a call. He essentially told Beers he didn’t like the story because it didn’t offer any alternative. The architect went on to explain his vision for suburban areas and how they can be denser, compact, and walkable, and invited Beers to meet with him to get the other side of the story. The Sunday following Calthorpe’s and Beers’ meeting, “Redesigning the Suburbs” was published in the San Francisco Examiner. “After I wrote that story, he was given a commission to build an entire town based on his idea,” says Beers. “That really told me about the power of solutions journalism.” In Calthorpe’s book, The Next American Metropolis, the author-
“ It’s less about having insufficient room for negative or traditional journalism and more about learning how to integrate many sides of a story better and more frequently”
architect called on Beers in the foreword, saying that much of his success was due to Beers’ story. Thinking about impact makes sense to Beers, who sees the solutions journalism as forward-thinking. “Most journalism asks: ‘What went wrong yesterday and who’s to blame?’ Solutions journalism asks: ‘What might go right tomorrow and who’s showing the way?’”
CO-FOUNDER AND CEO OF THE SOLUTIONS Journalism Network is Canadian David Bornstein. The network’s mission is to promote the efficacy of the practice, which it defines as “rigorous reporting on responses to social problems.” Bornstein had a drawn-out introduction to the practice of solutions reporting. In 1996, he published his first book, The Price of a Dream, which was a story about Grameen Bank’s anti-poverty approach used in their innovative micro-financing model, based in Bangladesh. That story inspired him to ask: “What are people doing that is working?” His book was nominated for the New York Public Library’s Bernstein Award for Excellence in Journalism. He met fellow journalist and winner of the same award for a previous year, Tina Rosenberg. “She just sort of came up and said, ‘loved your book,’ and we just met and became friends,” says Bornstein. In 2010, Rosenberg called Bornstein to discuss a column she wanted to pitch to the New York Times called Fixes. The idea was that this column could be a joint platform for the two journalists to provide rigorous reporting to solutions for some of the biggest social problems the world faces today. “[Journalism] can’t always do its core mission of holding people accountable,” explains Bornstein, “because as we’ve said, you can only really hold people accountable for performance if you can show that better performance is possible.” This opportunity gave Bornstein and Rosenberg the chance to cover old stories from a new perspective. One night in 2012, in bustling New York City, a group of journalists sat in Bornstein’s apartment and sorted through the pros and cons of creating a network for journalists who wanted to produce content, such as the content being produced in Fixes. In debating its practical application, those present had mixed feelings. Some said “nobody will probably listen. But you should try anyways.” And so in 2013, the Solutions Journalism Network (SJN) was born. SJN wants to bring solutions journalism to every newsroom, worldwide. In doing so, the network offers a number of different resources for journalists, academics, students, or professionals to learn from. For example, the network offers an online training program that takes users through the different stages of understanding, reporting, editing and publishing successful solutions-based work. Through this, publications are able to research and produce solutions stories by working, training and benefiting from the network’s resources. The response has been heady. For instance, south of the border in Washington state, thousands of students were affected when the State of Washington Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI) updated an archaic policy regarding expulsions and suspensions for children from kindergarten to grade eight, following a chain of articles published as part of an education series in the Seattle Times. In 2016, bill 4SBH 1541 came into effect. Aside from confusSPRING 2019 | RYERSON REVIEW OF JOURNALISM 105
ing readers with its letters and numbers, it is about “implementing strategies to close the educational opportunity gap.” Essentially, the bill protects children of colour from being unfairly suspended and more broadly, looks at how suspensions affect youth. A few years before the bill was passed, Education Lab, a partnership project by SJN, began a series of stories that exposed a systemic issue. Black and Latino students were more susceptible to school discipline than their white counterparts. The finding, in addition to articles about the damages from expulsions and suspensions, caused governments to act. The stories focused on what could be different about school discipline rather than how many students were being suspended, or how poorly the state’s youth were acting. The team at Education Lab looked over various methods of punishment and wrote compelling articles backed with verified research about discipline measures. These included ending suspensions for students who are chronically late or truant, as well as limiting “exclusionary discipline for students who do not behave in threatening ways, and prohibits all expulsions for kindergarten to fourth-grade students,” according to the Seattle Times reporter Neal Morton. Linda Shaw, editor of Education Lab at the time the series was published, says “It was clear the first year, that audiences were hungry for this kind of reporting because anecdotally, we just got so much good feedback about the stories.” One reader sent $40,000 to a program that helps teachers of colour refine their teaching skills at a community college. Another time, the graduation rate at a local school was increased because their curriculum adopted a “rigorous academic program” that helps children from low-income families thrive in school. The change was cross-industry and large. “When we wrote about the problem, nothing much happened. People throw up their hands and say, ‘Ah, it’s too complicated,’” explains Shaw. “When we covered it from the solutions lens a lot more happened.” Truth or Consequences (T or C) is a small town in New Mexico named after the popular 1950’s American game show. It’s home to just under 6,000 residents, and its population has been declining for years. T or C sits just under 200 kilometres north of El Paso and almost 250 kilometres south of Albuquerque. Hampered by its physical location in one of America’s poorest states, the town had seen little growth in infrastructure and in turn, their economy. A few years back, Marianne Blaue and John Masterson decided to set up a brewery in the town. In June 2017, the Truth or Consequences Brewing Company opened its doors to residents and tourists alike. In his article, “Brewery helps breathe life into downtown Truth or Consequences,” Heath Haussamen recalls the Revolution Brewing in Paonia, Colorado that opened just before the Great Recession. Haussamen, founder, editor, publisher, and writer at NMpolitics.net, cited mayor Neal Schwieterman, who said that the brewery’s numbers were, at the very least, above the red during the recession, which supplied tax revenue and in turn, helped the government avoid budget cuts. Haussamen profiled a few other businesses that opened up shop around the time that Blaue and Masterson’s brewery opened, including a second-hand store and food truck. And with that, this meagerly-populated road stop survived the recession. In 2014, T or C’s unemployment rate was over 11 percent. In 2018, that number is falling. “Tourism stories are kind of one of the easiest to do in a
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“ The solutionist theory: reader fatigue is ultimately a consequence, whether intended or not, of the journalist’s story-telling”
solutions format because even the publicity of doing the story generates builds towards the solution that the town is working towards,” Haussamen says. “And so even doing the story almost makes the journalism part of the solution.” This article, among other solutions-based work, Haussamen claims, has opened up more streams of revenue for his small news operation. He says there was a significant increase in revenue when producing the story on T or C’s revitalization and after it was published. “The people who were reading it were really interested in it and really engaged with it.” Haussamen has received multiple grants from different organizations to chase down solutions-based stories. Other publications have also reported increases in engagement and revenue through their solutions journalism content model.
THE DISCOURSE IS A DIGITAL MEDIA STARTUP that is working to fill the gaps left by a deteriorating local media, originally founded in Vancouver, B.C. in 2014 by Erin Millar, Christine McLaren, and Colleen Kimmett. “The best way of attracting an audience and ultimately creating revenue and making money is by creating good journalism,” says Anita Li, Director of Communities. “And solutions journalism is fantastic.” The Discourse dials in to forgotten Canadian communities or regions with a lack of local media sources. Its content model is powered through conversations with the communities on which it reports. “The overarching mission for us is to surface stories in journalism or report on issues that contribute to a more egalitarian world,” says Li. The team publishes a variety of stories. However, they always ask: “Does [the content] reveal complexity, new perspectives, or solutions about systemic issues?” It’s the mission that attracts funders, donors, and audiences, Li explains. The most important connection between publisher and audience is mission alignment. Li says although the Discourse’s funding comes from private investors, partnerships, grants and more, investors must accept editorial independence. One example of how the Discourse practices solutions journalism is through its work in Scarborough. Discourse contributor Aparita Bhandari’s article, “More than an eyesore, Scarborough strip malls celebrate community,” is a story about the essence of ethnic shops in a multicultural division of Toronto and what kind of value and
opportunity the stores bring to marginalized communities and minorities. These types of stories help build relationships and trust. “You’re actually paying to be a part of a like-minded community of people,” says Li. “And in this case for Discourse, it’s a community of like-minded people who want to affect change in the world and want to brainstorm [and] discuss solutions to systemic issues.” The impact subsequent of a solutions model has been felt by many news organizations. In France, the Nice-Matin was in the red before adopting a solutions-based content model. According to the SJN, the publication’s subscriptions rose 70 percent and gained 300 percent more page visits on solutions articles. Even the Seattle Times Education Lab reported stellar numbers for engagement. Over 60 percent of the Seattle Times readers agreed with the statement, “The [solutions-based] story changed the way I think about this topic.” They also reported that solutions journalism stories received over 100 percent more page views than non-solution journalism, and had a 180 percent increase of time-on-page. The Education Lab stated that solutions stories received over 230 percent more social shares. At a time when journalism is trying to nudge into readers attention spans upon competing media gimmicks, and profit in doing so, this model has been proven to do just that, and more.
ALTHOUGH THE NUMBERS OFFERED BY SJN seem convincing, there is still indecision on exactly what solution journalism offers. Ruaro’s paper suggests that from a psychological point of view, it is unclear whether or not solutions journalism can actually evoke high levels of reaction. However, an article that has “mobilizing information could counter the helplessness driven by the media by explaining how readers can individually contribute to solving the issue.” Critics have asked if this edges too close to advocacy. “One of the top misconceptions about solutions journalism is that it advocates for a specific solution or proposes a solution that doesn’t yet exist,”
“ They reported that solutions stories received over 100 percent more page views and had a 180 percent increase of time-on-page. They stated that solutions stories received over 230 percent more social shares”
writes Samantha McCann, SJN’s director of communities. “Stories that advocate for a specific solution…are usually found in the opinion section of the paper,” she continues. “Authors take a stand and argue why a specific program is the best choice.” Take, for example, Peter Calthorpe’s foreword in his book. The exact quote was: “Finally, I must acknowledge David Beers, who through a rare act of advocacy journalism, first published these ideas and thereby catalyzed much of what has come to pass.” Beers believes that the term “advocacy” was used in a way to describe rarity, rather than activism. But even so, Beers says in an email response: “When journalists transmit the ideas and visions of experts, they are [in part] advocating for one vision of the world or another. We should be rigorous, skeptical and fair-minded on behalf of the reader. But we shouldn’t consider it a sin to facilitate discussions that could lead to positive change.” Experts in solutions journalism would argue that calling it advocacy simply isn’t true. “Basically, you’re just reporting on a response to a social problem, the results that it’s getting, and what could be learned from it,” says Bornstein. Advocating would require the writer to pine for a solution. Not only would that be in the crosshairs of journalistic integrity, but it could also prove to be an editorial blunder if that solution doesn’t shape up. “You only have good evidence about the past and only conclusive evidence about the distant past,” says Bornstein. “To protect yourself, the main thing that journalists need to do is not to overclaim.” Every problem has its limitations and, in turn, so does the solution. These need to be clearly stated. Beers offers three methods of response-driven storytelling. The first is living through the solution, almost like if Gonzo met solutions. An example of this, he says, would be The 100-Mile Diet, authored by Alisa Smith and J.B. MacKinnon. The second is finding a small-scale experiment that has already collected viable data and reporting on it. The story asks: Can it be scaled upwards? Why wouldn’t this work in this town or city? An example of this would be safe injection sites in Vancouver. The last method of solutions reporting is asking: Is our future happening somewhere else right now? This method is comparable to Monte Paulsen’s story, where he sought a solution across the Atlantic, far from home. Solutions. Future-focused. Constructive. Call it what you will, but the principle is the same. It’s less about having insufficient room for negative or traditional journalism, and more about learning how to integrate many sides of a story better and more frequently. Experts are unsure of what it will look like in the future, or how it will be integrated within the media landscape. “I think that ultimately, the term ‘solutions’ will just go away. It won’t be needed,” says Bornstein. “You won’t have to say there’s a special kind of journalism that asked you to go look at how people are trying to solve problems, it’ll just be obvious.” What this calls for is a shift in approach. And by focusing on the impact of the story rather than the delivery and the packaging, news outlets might be able to salvage readership, trust, engagement, and, thus, revenue. “There’s this belief in journalism that trust is a function of accuracy,” says Bornstein. “Trust is actually a function of relationship. We don’t trust people just because they think they are right – that’s important. We trust them because they have our backs.” And isn’t that what we are here to do? SPRING 2019 | RYERSON REVIEW OF JOURNALISM 107
Inside the dwindling profession of the music critic B Y HANNAH ZIEGLER ILLUSTRATION BY NICK CRAINE
N 1976, PETER GODDARD WROTE a gently critical review of the Bay City Rollers’ performance in Toronto. They were a band of young men who won the hearts of screaming fans across the globe with a fervour that echoed Beatle-mania. Goddard, then the Toronto Star’s music critic, questioned the band’s comparison to the Beatles—more so based on fandom than musicality. “The accepted word on the Rollers now is that they’re all promotional hype and that they couldn’t play a tune if it only meant turning on a radio,” he wrote of the general consensus at the time. The review prompted a protest. Not just an angry phone call or a strongly worded letter to the editor, but a full blown protest with handmade signs that read, “Get A Hearing Aid” and “Sit On It Goddard.” But he wasn’t bothered by people’s reactions to his writing. “What I took far more seriously is when I would blow a serious review. I would try to tackle something that had meaning and substance and sometimes got it wrong.” Although he’s conducted thousands of interviews and written thousands of reviews, Goddard’s online presence is void of an active Twitter account or website. You are able to find a succinct biography on the Canadian Encyclopedia website, and his books are available for sale on his publishers’ websites. But nothing gets too personal, which is a rarity for many music writers today who take to Twitter to supplement their work with pop culture quips and political thoughts. For many music writers, this is how they get their names out there in 2019. It may be hard to believe now, but at one point, you could take your pick of regularly published music magazines. You could grab a copy of Creem, and then move on to Rolling Stone, and Bomp!, in
addition to a wealth of music writing in large daily newspapers. The disappearance of music magazines, like many other businesses, can be linked to the economic recession of 2008. Advertising revenues for the magazine industry as a whole brought in $13.9 billion that year versus $10 billion in 2009. Another important factor that contributed to print magazines shuttering was the advent of digital ads cutting into print revenue, which began long before the 2008 crisis. The advent of the internet also changed music listening habits. People moved from CDs to MP3 downloads, making revenue a complicated issue in the music industry. As Amos Barshad wrote for Slate about the changing role of the music critic in an internet era: “The monoculture weakened; a million little tribes sprung up in its place. How could any one person claim a universal authority over all of that?” When music publications close, with them go the full-time writing positions. However, Alan Cross, a longtime Canadian radio host and music journalist, writing for Global News, linked shrinking staff music writer jobs and music sections in newspapers to the changing nature of music consumerism and its technologies. Cross wrote that CD sales are 10 percent what they were in 2000. People were still listening to music, but it took a different form, and that new form was difficult to monetize. But this meant changes for many aspects of the industry; there wasn’t as much money for print ads, and consumers weren’t buying as many magazines because they could go online to read about music for free. Tabassum Siddiqui, a freelance music critic and longtime Polaris Prize juror, started her music writing career around this time. She began freelancing frequently for music publications during a golden SPRING 2019 | RYERSON REVIEW OF JOURNALISM 109
era for Canadian indie rock, when bands like Broken Social Scene and Arcade Fire were on the rise. Full spreads have turned into smaller sections of papers as content moved online, and she has had to adapt from her byline appearing in print alternative weeklies to digital content. “The thing with criticism today is almost anyone feels like they can review an album or write about music without necessarily any background,” Siddiqui says. But it’s not only a matter of background. There’s something special about the works of established critics like Goddard that has inspired the ways Siddiqui and her colleagues write about music.
oogle “Peter Goddard,” however, and you won’t find much personal information. Goddard is self-described as “silverhaired, stocky, looking like a biker a bit.” Meeting him in person, it’s pretty accurate. He dons great round glasses—thicker than Lennon’s signature specs with deep blue frames. Despite his reputation as an authoritative voice in music, he repeatedly calls himself square. Goddard grew up in Mississauga, a suburb outside of Toronto, during the baby boom era. He was surrounded by music, though in a more formal and traditional format. He took piano lessons starting at a young age, building his knowledge of classical music through practice and dedication. However, growing up so immersed in a community of musicians, he was determined not to become one himself. It was his way of rebelling. Goddard originally studied music education at the University of Toronto, but realized he was more interested in writing about music than he was in playing it. He began writing about music for the Globe and Mail in 1968 while still in school. “As far as I know, I may have been the first person in Canada to be hired as a pop critic.” His first full-time, salaried gig was at the Toronto Telegram. He was a trailblazer, building his portfolio on the heels of established Toronto music and arts writers such as George Anthony of the Toronto Sun. Goddard actually likes teen pop. “I would get five to 10 calls a week from somebody [saying,] ‘Hi, I’m working for the school newspaper, could you get me backstage to meet David Cassidy?’” But Goddard says the promoters weren’t going to go out of their way to do him any favours. If anything, he’d pass the PR person’s information along to the students. He brings up a song he heard in a grocery store a few years ago that made him stop and consider the beauty behind the production and vocals. “It was brilliant. I mean, it was one of the best things I heard that year.” It turned out to be a Justin Bieber deep cut. He explains that he is not beyond any genre and just likes what he likes.
ow, full-time jobs like Goddard’s are nearly obsolete. Gone are the days of Lester Bangs and Greil Marcus’s level of fame when the music critic was nearly as important to the music fans as the artists. Though the fame wasn’t handed to them, their readers trusted their insightful and critical thoughts. Now, legions of music fans are taking to the small screen for their trusted album and song reviews. If you are an avid YouTube watcher, The Needle Drop probably rings a bell. Anthony Fantano, an American self-proclaimed as the ‘internet’s busiest music nerd,’ has over 1.5 million
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subscribers on his YouTube channel, where true Needle Drop fans affectionately call him ‘Melon.’” He has a deadpan yet knowledgeable approach to reviewing albums. Rather than make his thoughts come to life through writing, he faces a camera, directly speaking to his viewers about the latest in music. Back on Canadian soil, Mark Grondin is the creator of the YouTube channel, Spectrum Pulse. A Toronto-based music critic, Grondin’s platform is similar to Fantano’s. He posts music reviews to his audience of 38,500 subscribers almost daily. “There is some value and truth in that if you have a palpable stage presence on YouTube, you can build a following a lot faster than writing something,” he says. It’s a labour of love for Grondin, who works as a business analyst for a bank in downtown Toronto, whereas Fantano makes enough revenue off his videos to make it his full-time job. As someone who essentially reviews music for fun, Grondin doesn’t seem to be bored of it yet. When we meet, he is jubilant after a day at work and plans to work on more video content later. That doesn’t mean he’s not realistic, though. Unless he blows up to Fantano’s level of fame, he will keep it as a passion project. “[At one point,] I was probably putting in eight hours a day, including weekends,” he reflects. “When you review 300 albums in a year, you basically realize, ‘I might need to step back if I want to do things like get in shape or maintain a social life.’”
nupa Mistry is someone who has felt the fatigue of the music journalism industry. She’s also proof that you can be a suc‑ cessful music writer without the added public persona. “I’m not as big on social media now as I was before because I just think it’s killing all of our brains,” Mistry says. She has worked as the Canada editor at the Fader, a popular music news publication based in the United States, and was most recently creative producer of original video content at Vevo. Now, she’s doing some screenwriting for a documentary series. She says she likes to try new things when it comes to her writing career and has noticed that having a broad scope of what you can write about is beneficial. “It seems like writing about music and culture more broadly can be an entry point into writing [professionally],” Mistry says. She is a political science graduate who built her voice on the fusion of music and cultural commentary. Mistry says there are different ways people can write about music as a career, but a sizeable amount of music coverage today is pure promotion or publicity. “It’s important to make that distinction up front. There’s a difference between a critic and a writer. I would hate to see people conflating the two, because I don’t think that many music critics exist these days. There are a lot more writers.” Critics are dwindling quicker than ever—not the writers themselves, rather the positions at newspapers and magazines. Goddard says it’s no new phenomenon. He noticed the positions starting to disappear while still working full time. Of course, the internet had something to do with it, as well as “people, especially younger readers, [who] want to hear about Beyoncé’s life as opposed to what’s wrong with the record.” That could be why listicles and the like have become a common format for music writing. “Because of the accessibility and immediacy and the growing
irrelevance internet-based music writing has, it’s also become a heavily promotional vehicle,” Mistry says. The changes happening in the music industry play a role, too. “There’s just a lot of stuff that is clearly meant to promote the artist, and there’s not a lot of thought to put into it.” Mistry says critics can have a lot of power, but it’s felt most intensely in a local context. If a critic gives a newer artist a negative review, they can prevent smaller artists from getting booked for shows. Music criticism also has the power to hold musicians accountable. “For example, if a local band puts out a record but they’re total misogynists or something, then that deserves to be critiqued...in a review or even a podcast,” Mistry explains. In the past couple years alone, music journalists have reported on alleged sexual misconduct from musicians like Hedley’s lead singer Jacob Hoggard and three members from the indie rock band The Orwells. Mistry brings up a personal example—she wrote for the Fader about NAV, a South Asian rapper from the Greater Toronto Area,
“ Gone are the days of Lester Bangs and Greil Marcus–level fame, when the newspaper critic was nearly as recognizable as the artists they were talking to and about” and the implications of him repeatedly using the n-word in his music. That said, Mistry doesn’t necessarily consider music critics to be gatekeepers. “I think the other issue here is the responsibility to have a positive or negative. People are misinterpreting what the point of valuable, valid, artful criticism is. It’s not about, ‘is this good or bad?’ It’s about what’s interesting or thoughtful or challenging or complex or complicated about a piece of music.”
ome of the existing Canadian writers and critics have sent their writing south of the border, where music publication powerhouses like Rolling Stone and Pitchfork reside. Writing for a foreign publication is definitely not uncommon, as some altweeklies have shuttered. Exclaim!, Canada’s monthly music magazine, is one of the few still going strong. “We often take music fans and help them become journalists,” says Exclaim!’s founder and publisher Ian Danzig. “We never bring in journalists who aren’t fans of the culture.” There are nine staff writers at Exclaim!, and a few dozen freelancers, but most, as Danzig says, are simply passionate music fans and writers. It’s an excellent springboard, but freelancing alone likely won’t pay the bills. You’d have to write hundreds of reviews a year. “Looking at someone like Peter and the volume of how much he
wrote, not many people can compare,” Siddiqui says. It’s especially true when it comes to Goddard, not only in the volume of his articles but books as well. He’s written biographies of David Bowie, The Who, and, most recently, Glenn Gould. He is quiet about his future projects. At age 75, he now freelances occasionally. But when it comes to his medium, he doesn’t really have a preference. “Publishing has changed, and you conform to what is going on.”
he future of music criticism is difficult to predict. Everyone can curate the latest songs thanks to streaming applications like Spotify. That, coupled with the fact that anyone can share their views in a single tweet, and it wouldn’t be far-fetched to say that anyone with internet access and an opinion can call themselves a critic in 2019. Ben Rayner straddles this highly accessible digital era and old school music journalism. He’s been the music critic for the Star since 1998, covering everything from pop and rock to hip-hop and folk. But look at any major publication and you’ll see music grouped under a wider umbrella. At the Globe, music coverage is grouped under the arts and entertainment section, and at the National Post it’s under culture. The conglomeration of the different arts into one section means sometimes publications don’t have music and film reporters, but have more general arts reporters—you have to be able to cover it all. Rayner has mostly stuck to music. Apart from a couple of mandatory night shifts due to lack of staff and a stint in the features section, music is his beat. As a recent Carleton University journalism graduate, the then 22-year-old Rayner applied for a staff writer position at the Star. At the time, they were competing with the Post in an attempt to bring some fresh young voices to the paper. Rayner’s musical tastes and critical writing ability got him the gig, but he didn’t get hired on as a staff writer until two years after he first applied. In Goddard’s day, papers had genre-specific critics for beats like jazz, rock, and classical, but Rayner is responsible for understanding the large and evergrowing scope of pop music and artists. It’s a big commitment, but as a music critic in 2019, it’s simply the expectation. Go too niche and you might have trouble finding a paying job. When Brad Wheeler, former rock critic at the Globe, was moved to the film section in 2014, Rayner was a bit concerned the Star might make a similar decision to nix the music critic position. “When I became the last man standing, I thought it could go either way.” Luckily, the Star kept him on. “I think, especially right now when they are trying to get different takes on the website, as it turns out, people read [my stuff].” He’s grateful to be in the position, but says he does think about job stability often. “I do worry—not so much for me but there probably won’t be another music critic [at the Star] after I’m done.” It’s not all bleak, though. Almost any Canadian music critic you talk to now has a deep passion in their voice that simply can’t be torn down by shrinking publishing opportunities or the internet. There will always be music to write about. That song will never stop playing. Editor’s Note: The author has interned for Exclaim! SPRING 2019 | RYERSON REVIEW OF JOURNALISM 111
Rolling with the Punches
The world’s premier mixed martial arts journalist, Montreal’s Ariel Helwani, reflects on his scrappy path to success B Y AUROR A ZBOCH PHOTOS BY AURORA ZB OCH
ARIEL HELWANI IS PERCHED IN A BROADCAST BOOTH HIGH ABOVE
the newly constructed cage in Toronto’s Scotiabank Arena. Live at 6 p.m. on Friday, December 7, it’s the evening of the ceremonial weigh-ins prior to the next day’s UFC 231 event (the Ultimate Fighting Championship is a 25-year-old competitive mixed martial arts [MMA] organization, owned by the William Morris Endeavor talent agency). Centre stage, longtime UFC commentator Joe Rogan, also known for his popular but controversial podcast, calls up each competitor to be weighed. The seats are filled with fans screaming out the names of their favourite fighters. Below, in the arena behind Helwani, the contenders wait their turn. During the weigh-ins, Helwani, 36, is being filmed for a live special edition of his new show, Ariel & The Bad Guy. Co-host Chael Sonnen—“The Bad Guy” and a veteran MMA fighter—participates remotely from a studio in Oregon. The show debuted in the summer of 2018 and features the duo going head-to-head on split-screen for five-minute rounds of ribbing. They debate the top MMA stories, such as who should fight who and which fighters are next in line for UFC championships. SPRING 2019 | RYERSON REVIEW OF JOURNALISM 113
Helwani is in broadcast mode, facing two lights, a camera, and a monitor with Sonnen’s face beamed in. He wears a headset, a red and blue plaid shirt with a beige cardigan, and red and yellow Nike Retro Jordan 1s. Fervently chewing gum, he tweets and retweets a dozen times throughout the two hours it takes to film the special. Down below, Rogan and announcer Bruce Buffer’s voices roar as they call the names and weights of fighters, making it hard to hear anything else in the booth, augmented by his producers speaking directly into his headset with notes. He takes the chaos and noise in stride, though, speaking confidently as he recites memorized statistics about each fighter. In January 2019, ESPN paid $1.5 billion for a five-year television rights package with the UFC. Leveraging Helwani’s fan-favourite “Nose Awards” (an annual award show celebrating the sport that’s affectionately named after his own sizeable schnozz), the network decided to kick off the partnership with a New Year’s Eve special hosted by Helwani. “From the Apple store to ESPN,” exclaims current UFC heavyweight champion Daniel Cormier over Skype during the special. He’s referring to Helwani’s humble beginnings as a podcaster whose shows could be downloaded via Apple’s app store. “Let’s go, Helwani, let’s go!” Helwani affectionately refers to Cormier as “my man,” and holds up a plastic trophy bearing a cartoon nose sticker, awarding him the 2018 “Male Fighter of the Year” (other awards included Rivalry, Event, and Story of the Year). DECEMBER’S UFC 231 EVENT WAS REPORTED TO GENERATE nearly 300,000 pay-per-view buys and brought over 19,000 fans to the Scotiabank Arena, each having paid upwards of $100 for tickets. The night featured two championship bouts: Max Holloway defending the featherweight championship against Brian Ortega, and Valentina Shevchenko versus Joanna Jedrzejczyk for the vacant women’s flyweight title. The broadcast booth in which Helwani spends fight weekend is located in Scotiabank Arena’s Foster Hewitt Media Gondola. Its blue walls are adorned with plaques and old photos commemorating Canadian sports broadcasters, including a mural in homage to the booth’s namesake, legendary announcer Foster Hewitt. Laid out in the room are pistachios, candy, and cans of soda, but Helwani asks for a bottle of water—room temperature. It’s better for the voice. He starts the show with trivia about Toronto while Sonnen retorts with jokes, pretending to be unfamiliar with the CN Tower and teasing Helwani for being Canadian. Sonnen’s ribbing is in good fun. But over the years, Helwani has become something of a divisive figure thanks to his merrily antagonistic style. Still, those who do like him, like him a lot. “He’s helped the sport a ton, just trying to get it mainstream,” says Josh Rose, one of the first fans in line for the UFC 231 press conference on December 5. “He’s not afraid to go against the grain or
“ He’s not afraid to go against the grain or do what he thinks is honest journalism. He’ll ask fighters any question” do what he thinks is honest journalism. He’ll ask fighters any hard question.” Helwani comes from a traditional journalism background, having attended Syracuse University’s Newhouse School of Public Communications after he read about its number one ranking for broadcast journalism in Sports Illustrated. In more than ten years of covering MMA, he’s worked for HBO Sports, Spike TV, AOL, Fox Sports, and Vox Media, moving through television production to reporting roles, eventually hosting his own podcasts, and recently rising to the ranks of ESPN. His former show, The MMA Hour, became a huge hit with MMA fans thanks to Helwani’s tireless hustle to secure interviews with fighters, managers, and promoters. He was persistent in contacting sources himself, many of whom were booked via text message and social media direct messages. Eventually, the tables turned and it was Helwani who was being approached by publicity reps hoping to get their clients in front of his growing audience. “If they don’t trust you, you’re done,” explains Helwani of the casual nature of his journalist-source relationships. “So, for them to feel like, ‘Oh, I can text Ariel. I could call Ariel. I could share information with Ariel. He’s not going to go out and tell the world about it’, is a really important thing for me.” Going straight to the source and straight to his audience via iPhone is a vital part of how Helwani built his name. And just like the UFC fighters he covers, Helwani has also cultivated an admiring fanbase. “I have a weird mind,” Helwani says. “If you ask me who repre-
Ariel Helwani attended Syracuse University’s Newhouse School of Public Communications
sents this guy, I could tell you right away…If I hear something about Max Holloway, I know who to call about Max Holloway. I don’t have to look it up. I don’t have a spreadsheet or anything about who the representatives are…it takes a while to get those people’s information, and [to get them] willing to talk to you and share something with you. It’s definitely not something that happens overnight. Luckily, in our sport, I think the majority of people are a lot more accessible than in other sports. That makes my job easier.” ON THE THURSDAY BEFORE SATURDAY’S EVENT, SEVERAL hundred UFC fans fill the gate six lobby of the Scotiabank Arena where open workouts are taking place. The four main and co-main
event fighters spend 30 minutes each doing exercise routines with trainers as fans and media watch. Rush “Mini” Holloway, the young child of featherweight champion Max Holloway, dances to music by rapper Future between his father’s sparring sessions. Helwani, who has just arrived to Toronto for the week’s events, tweets the video from side stage. Holloway steps up to spar for his half-hour. When the session is finished, the Hawaiian MMA champion lines up to take selfies with the front row crowd. Helwani is also being asked for photos. He poses with fans who wish him a Happy Hanukkah. During a rare day off last October, Helwani spent it with his family. He and his wife, Jaclyn Stein, a jewellery designer and illustrator, took their
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three young children to a local petting farm to celebrate their tenth wedding anniversary—albeit two weeks late due to Helwani’s hectic travel schedule (the couple met in the seventh grade). While a lot has changed for Helwani, such as his current position at ESPN, he still reaches out to his sources the same way he did years ago. “I’m still doing a lot of the same things,” he says over the phone, his two-yearold daughter cooing in the background. One might question Helwani’s apparent modesty as he comes off the busiest and highest-pressure year of his career. In May 2018, Helwani announced he would be leaving the Vox Media-owned MMAFighting.com, where, for years, he led a top weekly podcast. October 24 marked Helwani’s first appearance on set of ESPN’s flagship program, SportsCenter. He’s there to break the news of the first major trade in MMA history (the UFC exchanged Demetrious Johnson for Ben Askren, a fighter signed to Asian MMA organization ONE Championship). “I was always interested in media,” he says. “I was always fascinated by television and with the people on television; how television is made. I remember being much younger and watching the NBA. I was more fascinated by the announcers than the actual athletes.” When Helwani got to Syracuse, he realized a lot of people had the same ambition as him, “which is the traditional, baseball, basketball, football guy.” Luckily, he was also a fan of combat sports, but at the time the popular formats were limited to boxing and professional wrestling. At the age of 23, Helwani watched Montreal fighter Georges St-Pierre (GSP) win the welterweight championship at UFC 65. It was the deciding factor when Helwani chose to persue MMA reporting as a career. IN A FEBRUARY 2019 ARTICLE ON ESPN.COM COMMEMORATing St-Pierre’s recent retirement, Helwani wrote that, “I am a proud Montrealer. I support my own. And when GSP fought Matt Hughes for a second time in hopes of finally winning the welterweight title at UFC 65, I convinced some friends to go to a local Montreal sports bar to watch history unfold. This was more than 12 years ago. MMA was nowhere near as popular as it is today.” Back then, the stillbudding sport of MMA offered Helwani the chance to stake out his own place in sports journalism. On a hunch that he could do a better job than the few other outlets covering MMA at the time, Helwani gave himself six months to make it. In October 2007, he launched his own website, naming it Jarry Park, after the stadium of his favourite baseball team, the late Montreal Expos. Through MySpace, he found fighters to interview, and slowly built an audience—the beginnings of what would become an effective sourcing strategy. With three days left until his self-imposed deadline, Helwani got a call from a website called MMA Rated, which offered him a job editing. Helwani stayed there until late 2008 when he moved on to MMAFighting.com. It was there that he spent over nine years covering MMA as host of The MMA Hour, doing live interviews from the studio in New York City. After nearly a decade, he felt he had hit a ceiling. Finally, in June 2018, Helwani made his ESPN debut after announcing his departure from MMAFighting.com the previous March. The move brought mixed feelings from even Helwani’s most loyal fans, who lament that his content is now inaccessible to many
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of them (Ariel & The Bad Guy is available exclusively on US-based streaming platform ESPN+, an ill-fitting fate for such a proud Montrealer). “I know in Canada you can’t get everything from ESPN, but there’s a lot that you’ll see online that I think is going to serve mixed martial arts fans worldwide, not just in the United States,” Helwani says. “I have a very guilty conscience,” he adds. “I feel like I work for the fans, so it hurts me when people say, ‘Oh, it’s difficult [to access ESPN]’. I will say, as a consumer of sports myself, we’re all creatures of habit. When someone changes jobs, it can be a little rattling. But I hope people recognize that this is a very positive move for my career.” To satisfy his Canadian fans, Helwani voraciously live-tweets and uses social media to recap his ESPN show. But it’s not the fans who want more of him who are his biggest detractors.
“ While undeniably chummy, he is considered by some to be an instigator”
Ariel Helwani (back row right) poses for a picture with fans at a UFC 231 open workout
“I think I’m just me. Sometimes I’m a schmuck,” Helwani replied. “For fans, that’s great. But you’re going to piss off fighters along the way,” Gall says. “And you have been doing that.” Earlier in 2016, at UFC 199, Helwani was slapped with a media credentials ban from the UFC, along with MMA Fighting photographer Esther Lin and videographer E. Casey Leydon. All three were escorted by security out of The Forum arena in Inglewood, California, shortly after Helwani broke the news about Brock Lesnar’s upcoming return, as well as the Conor McGregor versus Nate Diaz rematch ahead of the UFC’s official announcement and promotions for UFC 202. Shortly after, in an interview with the UFC Unfiltered podcast, UFC President Dana White, angered by Helwani’s unsanctioned reveal, said that Helwani wanted to steal “the excitement and enjoyment of the fans...instead of doing some real journalism.” The ban was quickly reversed after Helwani’s fans and fellow journalists expressed outrage and support. The incident was one of the many catalysts that led Helwani to co-found and become vice president of the MMA Journalists Association (MMAJA), an organization that advocates for journalists’ rights and interests in MMA. Mike Bohn, a member of the MMAJA and a Toronto-based MMA reporter, says he considers Helwani a friend and an influence to many younger journalists. “I don’t know how you can have anything negative to say about how hard he works, the relationships he’s built, and how he’s able to use those to break stories and get big interviews,” Bohn says. “Everyone has their hiccups and has made mistakes, but he is the most successful journalist in our field.” Despite the prompt reversal of the ban, Helwani believes White still holds a grudge (to this day White has Helwani blocked on Twitter and Instagram). “People can call it journalism or whatever, and we can have our differences of opinion on that. But he knows what he did, and he did it on purpose,” White continued on the UFC Unfiltered podcast. “The bottom line was this: it was all about Ariel.” “You’re not always going to see eye-to-eye with the people who you’re covering,” Helwani says, when I bring up the incident. “It’s unfortunate that the most powerful man in the sport feels this way
OVER THE YEARS, MMA FANS AND FIGHTERS HAVE DISagreed with Helwani’s demeanor. While undeniably chummy, he is considered by some to be an instigator. On the Reddit MMA forum, a number of users accuse him of asking tough questions with the purpose of aggravating fighters, saying he cares more about their personal backstories and drama than the fighting itself. On The MMA Hour in September 2016, welterweight Mickey Gall confronted Helwani. In a previous interview with Gall, Helwani had asked if he wanted to speak to retired fighter Dan Hardy, without warning Gall that Hardy was on the line. Gall challenged Hardy to fight, but said he felt blindsided by the question live on-air. “I think you’re kind of a character in this whole MMA game,” Gall says in the interview. “Sometimes you like to be a schmucky reporter. You like to antagonize.”
about me because I’d like to think that 99.9 percent of the people who are in the sport, I have a good relationship with. But again, I really don’t feel like it hinders my ability to do the best job possible.” Helwani’s supporters remain unbothered. In line before the UFC 231 press conference, avid UFC fan Andrew Franczak said of Helwani, “He’s not afraid to break the boundaries. So many people were scared to go against Dana White before.” AMIDST THE COVERAGE OF UFC 231, THE MMAJA ISSUED A statement regarding several MMAJA members who felt as though they had to avoid asking questions concerning the controversy surrounding Greg Hardy. In response, the UFC said they did not direct the media to avoid specific subjects. Greg Hardy (not to be confused with Dan Hardy), a former NFL player-turned-UFC fighter, was charged with domestic violence in 2014, however, the case was later dismissed. Hardy was booked on the same fight card as Rachael Ostovich, a fighter who identifies as a survivor of domestic violence. Many journalists agreed it was a poor move and used the MMAJA to communicate that they felt unable to do their jobs freely. “I don’t think that Greg Hardy should be on the debut [ESPN] card, and I certainly don’t think he should be on the same card as Rachael Ostovich,” Helwani says during our interview. “I just think it’s tone-deaf.” On this December trip to Toronto for UFC 231, Helwani has been asked to appear on TSN and Sportsnet as ESPN’s MMA insider. When he was young, he imagined he’d only see the inside of those studios if he were to win a contest. He proudly tweets out links and video clips from each appearance. “This is one of the highlights of my career, honestly. To get this sort of respect, getting to do interviews with legendary journalists here in Canada. It’s just been incredible,” he says. “Even being in this area here,” he adds, gesturing around the booth. “This is like a sports media hall of fame for Canada.” IN HIS HOME COUNTRY, HELWANI IS IN HIS ELEMENT. IT’S fight night and the biggest MMA event in Toronto since Holloway headlined against Anthony Pettis in 2016. Helwani lords over the arena, watching the octagon from the broadcast booth, tweeting the action as it unfolds. In the co-main event, Shevchenko wins against Jedrzejczyk by judges’ decision, becoming the women’s flyweight champion. In the main, Holloway defeats Ortega and leaves him with a broken nose. A doctor calls a stop after round four. After the fights, Helwani interviews Holloway. Mini is on his father’s lap while Helwani holds up the “UFC” emblazoned black and gold championship belt. Helwani hasn’t prepared any questions, instead speaking naturally and emotively on the spot. He and Holloway bump fists, before Helwani hands the belt to Mini, saying, “I’ll never be as cool as you, my man.” As of January, Helwani, who says MMA is still in its “dark ages,” has yet another new podcast to his name. The MMA Reporters is a weekly roundtable that features other industry insiders unpacking the business of MMA. He will also be part of a new weekly MMA segment on ESPN’s SportsCenter, called In The Cage. He announces the news to his fans directly on Twitter and Instagram, using a picture of himself on set between takes—nose buried in his phone. SPRING 2019 | RYERSON REVIEW OF JOURNALISM 117
You’ve Got Mail Are e-newsletters the answer to journalism’s declining readership? B Y TANNER MOR TON
In 2015, the Star launched Star Touch, a proprietary app that was intended to revolutionize how readers engaged with the news. Stories were optimized for tablet users, featuring additional content not included in the newspaper, like explainer videos, created with the intention of keeping eyes on a story for longer. The Star hired new staff members in order to work on the app, and according to the Shattered Mirror Report, they invested $25 million before it was even launched. But instead of saving its creators, Star Touch was met with lacklustre results. Spending less than two years on the market, the digital venture cost over $30 million in investments and two seperate bouts of layoffs for a readership of 60,000 per week. “That’s nothing for a media company with a combined daily print and digital readership that’s somewhere north of two million,” wrote David Topping in a 2017 Medium article. At the
tion on their own. After all, credible news is still available for free from the likes of CBC or the Guardian in the United Kingdom. In just over two months after the paywall went up, the Star saw almost 10,000 readers make the move to pay for their news. It was able to build an audience through its free access to the Star Touch app. But the goal is to convert readers into digital subscribers. Topping hopes that this is where the newsletter strategy will come in. “If we get to acquire at least an email address, we get to know who they are, and we get to start to build a habit with them,” says Scott Adams, director of digital subscription acquisition at the Globe, which erected its own content paywall in 2012 and is now also working on a newsletter strategy. “Hopefully [readers will] get more engaged with the content, and they’ll continue to see offers to subscribe.”
“The idea is to convince new, existing, and lapsed readers that newspapers are still relevant to their lives” START YOUR DAY WITH THE NEWSPAPER
and a cup of coffee? In 2018, it was more likely for Canadians to receive their news from social media than from newspapers, according to a report from the Reuters Institute. But instead of solely relying on social media algorithms to drive readers to their websites, hardworking editors and writers are putting their backs into delivering top stories straight to readers’ inboxes. Newsletters are back, and they’re part of a plan—albeit a modest one—to build up readership numbers and convince Canadians to pay for content they’ve been getting for free. Like so many trends, this one hit its stride in New York. The New York Times has been producing newsletters alongside other big-city papers since the dot-com bubble at the turn of the millennium, but decided to ramp up its efforts in 2016 when Elisabeth Goodridge became the Times’ first editorial director of newsletters. Over the last four years, the third-most-read newspaper in America (behind only USA Today and the Wall Street Journal) has grown its newsletter offering from 38 titles to a hefty 68—damn close to one for every interest. They offer the top headlines in “Morning Briefing,” a business-insight roundup in “With Interest,” environmentally-focused stories in “Climate: Fwd,” and socially minded pieces in “Race/Related,” among others. In the process, the Times has seen its newsletter subscription grow to more than 14 million, according to Jordan Cohen, the Times’ director of communications. Here in Canada, publications such as the Globe and
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Mail and the Toronto Star have followed a similar route to the Times, opting for paid subscription models. The idea is to convince new, existing, and lapsed readers that newspapers are still relevant to their lives. One of the ways they’ve tried to do that is by offering up free subscriptions to newsletters that readers can mix and match to suit their individual tastes. Newsletter subscribers begin to anticipate the arrival of their daily or weekly hit of news, book reviews, wine recommendations, real estate porn, or anything, really. Each installment for publications like the Star and the Globe include key headlines and a blurb about each curated story. However, some of the stories are designated as off limits, except to paid readers. The newsletter itself is still free to receive, and newsletter subscribers can still see each headline and blurb, but to gain access to the full story, they need to pony up a subscription fee to the originating news platform. It’s an exercise in seduction. But are Canadian audiences willing to fall for it? FOR THE FINANCIALLY BATTERED NEWS INDUSTRY, options are dwindling. Declining revenue has led to the shuttering of 225 news organizations across Canada since 2008, according to the Local News Research Project’s February 2019 report, and layoffs are already underway this year. In 1975, more than three-quarters of Canadian households had newspapers in their homes. In 2017, that number is less than one in five.
time, Topping had just helped launch the sardonic 12:36 newsletter for St. Joseph Communications, publisher of Toronto Life, among other magazines. With a combination of tweets, Instagram posts, and witty commentary, the daily 12:36 dispatch aims to catch readers up on buzzy political and media stories of the moment. Its open rate is consistently above 50 percent, meaning more than half of subscribers who receive the emails actually open them. In comparison, Mailchimp, an automated marketing platform that shares email and ad campaigns, has an open rate among their North America media and publishing clients with at least 1,000 subscribers of 21.9 percent. Star Touch ceased production on July 31 2017, less than two years after launching. Torstar also reported a net loss of $29.2 million in 2017 alone. Topping now works for Torstar where, less than a year into his new position, he is overseeing dozens of newsletters in Torstar’s portfolio. Considering his success with 12:36, he could be bringing some of that magic over to Torstar’s newsletter stable. IN SEPTEMBER 2018, FOLLOWING THE CRASH of its pricey Star Touch, Torstar president and CEO John Boynton announced another change in the organization’s digital publishing strategy. The Star would shift to a digital subscription model called Star Digital Access, and lock some of its editorial content behind a paywall. However, readers aren’t likely to pay for a subscrip-
Like the physical paper on your front porch, today’s newsletters are generating personal routines among their readership. Readers know that when they open their inbox each day, newsletters like the Globe’s “Morning Update,” will be waiting for them. Topping agrees. “Email newsletters are a really good way to create...the type of loyalty that you need from people if you want to turn them into paid digital subscribers.” And, if done properly, newsletters should have little to no downside. Producing them requires marginal additional expense, as existing staff are often tapped to execute topic-specific offerings, says Ron Nurwisah, the senior editor of audience development at HuffPost Canada. It also allows news organizations to skip past the social media algorithms, delivering their stories directly to audiences via newsletter with no fickle middleman, Topping says. Media in Canada’s Mary Maddever believes the strategy can work in this country, and, if anybody’s going to succeed, reputable and national publications like the Globe and the Star are the most likely. With the Reuters Institute reporting in 2018 that only 9 percent of Canadians are paying for online news, the question is whether there is enough to support newsrooms pivoting to paid subscriptions. “The challenge is finding at what scale it will work,” Maddever says. SPRING 2019 | RYERSON REVIEW OF JOURNALISM 119
Up and At ’Em! Sun’s up! Coffee’s on! A behind-the-scenes look at the perky world of morning TV B Y SKYLER ASH ILLUSTRATION BY ELAINE WILL
HE FLOOR IS PACKED WITH PEOPLE—hosts, camera and sound crews, directors and producers—and today, alpacas. Mocha and Cappuccino wait in the wings, fluffed and shorn, waiting for their turn in the spotlight. One sneezes, and cast members jump back, worried they’re about to get alpaca spit on their carefully chosen outfits and pristine hair and makeup. As the cameras start rolling, the alpacas make their way into the shot, one tripping, legs buckling. Everyone gasps quietly, waiting to see if the creature will recover in time to make its debut. It does. There’s hardly anybody behind the cameras who can contain their laughter. Everyone is pointing, taking pictures, and talking about how cute Cappuccino looks in their orange scarf. It’s a typical morning. This segment has been in the works for a month-and-a-half, says Jennifer MacLean, Your Morning’s co-executive producer. Thirty minutes later, the floor is empty, the alpacas are gone, and everyone at CTV’s Your Morning has moved on to meetings, research, and maybe a little rest.
WAKING UP IS A FIGHT TO KEEP SLEEP AWAY. It’s alarm clocks, fresh clothes, toothpaste, coffee, and the latest news. It’s the laughter emanating through the screen, pulling the viewer in. Popular morning shows such as Your Morning, a national broadcast, and the old, reliable,
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and local Breakfast Television (BT) Toronto dominate screens across the country each day. The shows are part news, part weather, part entertainment, part everything. The competition is tough and the shows are making all the adjustments they can to stay afloat in a highly digital era where their audiences can turn off their TVs at any moment—and alpacas at 8 a.m. is about as enticing as it can get. Bill Brioux is a TV critic who got his start at TV Guide and now authors a popular blog where he reviews shows. Viewers, he says, are always asking themselves questions when they look to pick a morning show: “Is it fun? Is it informative? Are they telling you things that you don’t already know? Is it more fun and more informative than what’s on 17 other channels?” In Canada, Brioux says viewers seem to have a higher bar for what they expect out of a morning show than Americans do. From his years in the United States, he recalls stories of cats stuck in trees making headlines. “People want friendly in the morning. They want to wake up to fun, but they want their headlines to be real and delivered with some gravitas.” Through the careful selection of host personalities, shows like BT Toronto and Your Morning are creating a world on the screen where viewers can go to see a friend in a controlled, crafted environment. Behind the scenes, it’s far more hectic than the viewers can imagine.
YOUR MORNING WAS THE ANSWER to the cancellation of Canada AM, a CTV morning show that ran for 43 seasons starting in 1972. Reasons for the show’s cancellation weren’t clear. A press release stated simply that TV was “evolving.” Launching on August 22, 2016, the show runs weekdays from 6 to 9 a.m. across Canada with co-hosts Anne-Marie Mediwake (formerly with CBC Toronto News and Global News Toronto) and Ben Mulroney (etalk, formerly with Canada AM). The show was marketed as a “new approach” to morning. Brioux says that Mediwake brought a strong news background, which viewers appreciate, but felt that everyone else seemed “too giddy.” Much of the reaction on his blog posts, he says, was negative toward Mulroney. “[CTV] must have reasons to make that investment,” Brioux says, his guess being the network wanted to pull in a younger audience. According to Numeris, a company that monitors Canadian broadcasters and tracks their data, Your Morning sat in the number one spot in Fall 2018 for the top Canadian national morning news show. At the time, the show was being watched by more than two million viewers per week. BT, Your Morning’s toughest competitor, has four different stations, one each in Vancouver, Calgary, and Montreal. But the Toronto station has cemented itself firmly at the top. Airing Monday to Friday from 5:30 to 9 a.m., BT has been playing on televisions across Toronto since September 6, 1989. In 2016, BT Toronto was the number one morning show in the city. It has the highest loyalty per minutes viewed. It has a stronghold on the 25 to 45 age demographic, which in 2016 was 11 percent higher than the next competitor. Brian Stelter, an American journalist and host of CNN’s Reliable Sources, writes in his book Top of the Morning: Inside the Cutthroat World of Morning TV that “what people not in the business sometimes don’t get is that being number one in the ratings has a value all on
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its own.” With a higher rating comes more money and advertising, Stelter notes. The 25 to 45 age demographic are the “Most Valuable Viewers (MVV),” the number one demographic that networks strive for. Every 800,000 viewers represents about $10 million (USD) in advertising money each year. “In other words,” Stelter notes, “convince 100,000 MVVs to watch every day and make $10 million (USD).” In 2011, the American morning show Today made nearly $500 million in advertising revenue. Its competitor, Good Morning America, made around $350 million, according to Top of the Morning. Morning shows are big profit pulls for their networks, and “basically subsidize the rest of the day’s news coverage.” That means that the shows have to do what they can to keep pulling in the money and the viewers. Canadian morning shows typically work with smaller budgets, Brioux says. In a 2014 column for the Canadian Press, Brioux writes: “National morning shows are still an enormous profit centre for U.S. broadcasters. In Canada, it’s a smaller and trickier playing field where standing still means losing ground.” It’s hard for shows like BT and Your Morning, Brioux says, “to compete with one-tenth of the budget.” “The real value to these morning shows now is ratings,” says Mary Maddever, senior vice president and editorial director of Brunico Communications, a media company that produces a number of media-based magazines. “These shows can be more appropriate for brands getting their message out there.” Shows like BT and Your Morning are similar to beauty and fashion magazines, Maddever says, where the ads can be seen as content. “Grow an audience, keep an audience, and have another opportunity for advertising revenue that isn’t prime time.” In 2016, BT welcomed back Tim Hortons as a sponsor on the show. Hosts can be seen sipping out of the classic red cup with a plate of donuts every day.
IN 2016, BT TORONTO WENT THROUGH some changes in cast, another sign of the changing times in the TV industry. The friendly faces that once got viewers through their morning and out the door now looked a little different. They said goodbye to longtime team member Jennifer Valentyne, who had been on BT for 23 years. Valentyne was a beloved cast member, hosting the show’s Live Eye segment where she went to events and businesses, and shared people’s stories. On April 2, 2016, she posted to Facebook saying she was leaving and was “sad that Breakfast Television [decided] to go in a different direction.” Viewers had commented that the show had gotten away from the news. There was no longer a role for Valentyne to fill. The idea of future segments similar to Live Eye wasn’t off the table. In July 2018, Stella Acquisto, a former CityNews reporter and weather specialist, joined as the community correspondent for BT Toronto, where she ventures out to local Toronto events and reports on the scene. The spots on the show are even called Live Eye, despite the network’s earlier attempts to distance themselves from this segment with the departure of Valentyne. On May 29, 2018, Kevin Frankish, a longtime co-host on BT Toronto, announced he would be leaving the show in June. After
From left: McEwan, Mulroney, Mediwake, Deluce and Grelo host CTV’s Your Morning
Petersen, Pugliese (centre, seated) and their team are up at dawn to host Rogers’ Breakfast Televison: Toronto
sharing his life and his stories with viewers for 27 years, he left to pursue “special projects” with Citytv, but the details were scarce. In January 2019, he announced on Twitter he would be teaching journalism at Seneca College. In February 2019, he launched a YouTube show called Try to Keep Up. The search for a new co-host was on. On July 4, 2018, Citytv announced that Roger Petersen would co-host the show alongside Dina Pugliese, who has been co-host since October 2006. Petersen joined Citytv in 1999 and has taken on the role of anchor, reporter, and host during his time with the outlet. “He has made a transition from being an anchor to being in people’s homes every single morning,” says BT’s executive producer Laura Reiter. Roshni Murthy, BT’s supervising producer, says Petersen fit in the show from the start. “What you see is what you get with Roger, which is why everybody likes him so much.” His news background, Murthy says, adds something to the reports on the show. But he’s still getting goofy on the couch with the rest of the team, laughing about the latest viral video or dancing with his cohorts.
BT’S PROMOS DON’T RUN MORE THAN 20 SECONDS. A camera and teleprompter face a desk with two stools, one in front and one behind. Pugliese promotes the upcoming baby show, and Petersen previews their story on planting bulbs for spring. Hot studio lights beat down on their faces as they laugh. It’s been five minutes and four attempts, and the co-hosts are coming off a post-show high that can’t be controlled. Petersen stumbles over his line, and Pugliese mocks him in a robot voice. Someone behind the camera counts down from three, and they’re on. The intonation of each word is perfectly punctuated. They lean subtly towards one and other, making it seem as if there’s nowhere else to be. Twenty seconds later, the promos are done. It seems quick, as though their morning is already done, but there’s still so much more to do. And they’ve been up for hours. Hosts of morning shows must “appear alive and alert and attractive on the air every single morning, no matter how sleepy or stressed,” Stelter writes. After a few months on the show, Petersen is still getting used to the routine. He should probably get to sleep a little earlier, but he doesn’t. Pugliese often scolds him, saying that her 6:30 p.m. bedtime is the reason she can function. When his alarm goes off at 3:30 a.m., he hits snooze. Again at 3:39 a.m., and again at 3:48 a.m. When snooze can’t save him, he gets out of bed. His go-to is a bowl of oatmeal, but some days he checks the show lineup to see if he’ll get to try something after a cooking segment. Then he hops on his bike and rides in to 33 Dundas Street East, about 10 minutes from his home. Getting in at 4:30 a.m. gives him a little time to settle in before their half hour meeting at 4:45 a.m. They discuss the layout of the show, and he’s off to makeup. He reads the news, and then he’s ready to go. Pugliese is up at 3:30 a.m. after nine hours of sleep. Sleep is the one thing she’s always been rigid about, even since childhood. She thinks she should be eating better or getting in more exercise, but sleep trumps that. When you start your day so early, you can’t be running late. Some wonder why she’s up so early since she’s the last one on set, but it’s strategic. When she rises, she’s ready. She reads SPRING 2019 | RYERSON REVIEW OF JOURNALISM 123
“ In those early morning hours, while the viewer is still in their pyjamas and the coffee begins to brew, the hosts become the viewer’s best friends” the news and checks Twitter, trying to find small “chat stories” she can fit into the show, wanting to come to work with something exciting to share. Once she’s out of makeup, she’s on set. “There are mornings, of course, where you wake up, and you’re tired,” says Pugliese. “Then you come up to the main studio and everyone’s like, ‘Hey!’ You feel like you’re in a Cheers episode.” And then the show starts.
BT TORONTO IS A LARGER TEAM in comparison to the other shows in the BT network, says Reiter, the show’s executive producer. She joined the Toronto team in September 2018, coming from Property Brothers. She describes the regional teams in Vancouver, Calgary, and Montreal as “leaner and meaner,” and she wants to change that dynamic. Right now, everyone does more than what the viewer might think, such as booking their own segments on the shows and scheduling interviews. Reiter had plans to work closely with the show’s resident tech expert Winston Sih, who was in charge of all the show’s social media channels, to integrate more opportunities for social media. However, Sih left in late December 2018 after six years. A tweet from Sih reads that he has “a couple projects bubbling,” and that he was leaving his “home” in order to “grow and learn.” In another effort to keep up with viewers’ needs—apart from regular social media callouts and bringing viewers in - BT Toronto is the only member of BT’s shows to have a second screen experience. BT Extra is a tailored online platform where viewers can watch complementary clips to what is happening on the show. Murthy says that their second screen content is intentional. “People are actually selecting what they want to watch,” she says. “You want to be strategic about what you’re putting on the BT Extra. You really want to compel people to come and engage with you.” The move to second screen is natural, as viewers are engaging with a second screen anyway. A 2016 study from the Consumer Technology Association revealed that more than three quarters of millennials use a second screen when watching video content. Of that group, 50 percent use the second screen to find additional information about what they’re watching on the primary screen. In a 2018 study conducted on behalf of Nielsen, it was found that viewers prefer to watch TV shows on a larger screen, but shorter videos are typically viewed on a computer or mobile device. The second screen also adds to the social media engagement that BT thrives on, as 71 percent of millennials and just over 30 percent
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of adults 35 and up engage with social media while watching something. “I think it’s less so about getting people to click on something,” says Murthy, and more about hearing the audience’s side of it and to “interact with BT as a brand and out hosts as their own individual selves.” This gives each host the chance to reach out to a viewer and open a dialogue through the screen. Reiter hopes to open up more avenues like this for audience interaction. BT has also had some experimentation in their routine. Reiter is all about the 24-hour cycle. Recently BT has been working more closely with CityNews Toronto, the nightly newscast on Citytv. The idea is to keep viewers with the channel all day, start your day with BT and end it with CityNews. It’s a “beginning,middle, and end” that Reiter believes was already taking shape before she joined the team. It’s also convenient considering many of the BT staff can also be seen on the nightly newscast, with anchors like Melanie Ng working and reporter Tammie Sutherland gracing the screen morning and night. In its 30 years on air in Toronto, much has changed, from on-air talent to technology to audience interaction. The heart of the show remains the same. In those early morning hours, while the viewer is still in their pyjamas and the coffee begins to brew, the hosts become the viewer’s best friends. The intimacy of the morning is shared with people who don’t seem like strangers after years of watching. And that’s just the way it’s meant to be. “It’s always been that way. There’s always been that connection, there’s always been that sort of breaking that barrier between viewer and talent,” says Barbara Britton, news director of BT Toronto. “That’s existed all along. It’s part of the little gem about the show.” Britton has been with Citytv, the show’s home channel, since the start. In those days, viewers used to send in letters by mail and hosts would dial them up on air. Today, they interact with viewers by doing regular birthday callouts sent in and by replying to tweets. Social media has been a game changer for the show, which now interacts with viewers on multiple platforms—Twitter, Facebook, Instagram—the communication has changed. “We actually have more opportunities to actually have our hosts engage with [viewers] and have relationships with them,” says Murthy. This interaction gives viewers a voice. “We don’t give them things,” says Petersen. “It’s not like we give them the news, we talk to them. We have a conversation… It’s not about telling them, it’s about sharing it with them.” The team at BT often interacts with the audience on air, reading Twitter reactions to custom hashtags about everything, such as debates about pineapple on pizza (which Petersen likes, but Pugliese doesn’t). But as much as progress has been made, the world of morning television is ever-changing. Jerry Chomyn, adjunct professor at the University of Guelph in media studies, says broadcast journalists should focus on their ability to relate to the person that’s watching. “Too many journalists have gotten away from the audience… That’s a problem.” The bond between co-host and viewer is delicate, and
Morning show host breakfast pairings Imagining what popular Canadian morning show personalities munch on during those early morning hours. BREAKFAST TELEVISION TORONTO Roger Petersen, co-host Black coffee, overnight oats with berries Dina Pugliese, co-host Orange juice, fresh berries and pancakes Frank Ferragine, weather specialist Herbal tea, a bagel with cream cheese Melanie Ng, anchor/reporter Coffee and a banana YOUR MORNING Anne-Marie Mediwake, co-host Tea with lemon, triple grain toast and an orange Ben Mulroney, co-host Espresso and avocado toast Kelsey McEwen, meteorologist Fruit infused water and waffles Priya Sam, news anchor Coffee, scrambled eggs and bacon —SKYLER ASH
it all comes down to chemistry, something you can’t manufacture. “The key here is to be able to relate to the audience. If you can relate to the audience,” Chomyn says. “If the audience can relate to you, then you’ve got magic.” When the routine begins to change on a show, that changes the routine of the viewer. “And people don’t like change,” says Chomyn. And viewers had a big change when Frankish left BT. With Pugliese and Petersen on air together, the show, Choymn says, seems stiff. “[Pugliese] is more like the free spirit. I feel like it brings a lot of levity to [the show]. But I think [Petersen] is now almost too similar to [Pugliese] to pull it off very well.” What viewers want is a contrast. Pugliese, Petersen, and the rotation of staff who join them on the coveted grey couch spend a lot of the show talking over each other. “You need a combination of personalities,” Chomyn explains. “If they’re all the same, that’s boring, because you know what happens when they’re all the same—they try to outdo each other.” In his book, Stelter writes that chemistry is more than just friendliness, but comes down to the questions hosts ask, how they transition between segments, and even how they read from the teleprompter. “If you don’t have [chemistry] in the morning, when the research show that viewers want to smell the coffee and feel the warmth and hear the happy banter,” then they won’t tune in. Morning show hosts, Brioux says, are an extension of family. “TV has that connection,” Brioux says. “You want to feel like you can spend time with these people.” After watching Your Morning, Brioux says he finds the show to be “bland.” “It’s not really anything new,” he says. “I think it’s sort of your dad’s idea of what a morning show should be. It’s people on a set, behind a desk, doing the same predictable segments day after day.” The show didn’t come across as being serious. In terms of the “shake-ups” in on-air talent at BT, Brioux doesn’t quite understand the switch from Frankish to Petersen. “It seemed like they took one middle-aged white guy and replaced him with another.”
AT YOUR MORNING, THE SOCIAL TEAM is considerably large, says MacLean. She estimates that seven people take care of social media content every day. The team meets once a week to discuss upcoming segments and try to find content that can be curated for their various feeds. Their Instagram is perhaps where they have the most curated, personal content. “Instagram is the perfect thing to really pull back the cover a little bit and let people see what happens behind the scenes,” says MacLean. It’s also a great way to interact with viewers. “Viewers are sophisticated. They understand it’s a TV show, they understand there are lots of moving parts, there’s lots of people beyond just what you’re seeing on air.” Not everything is planned, though. Kamal Bandukwala, a segment producer at Your Morning who takes care of social media in the morning, says the on-air talent jump in when they want to. “Ben [Mulroney]’s obviously very active… Priya [Sam, news anchor] does a little thing every day.” Kelsey McEwen, the show’s meteorologist, who holds a diploma in broadcasting and a certificate in meteorology, is very active on SPRING 2019 | RYERSON REVIEW OF JOURNALISM 125
DISPATCHES “ The competition is tough, and the shows are making all the adjustments they can to stay afloat in a highly-digital era in which their audiences can turn off their TVs at any moment, and alpacas at 8 a.m. is about as enticing as it can get” social media. “She’s got little kids, including a brand new baby who’s just over a year old. She’ll share a lot on social media about mom struggles and trying to keep it real, which is really resonating with a lot of people,” says MacLean. Alongside the rigorous posting, the show is clipped for YouTube and articles are posted to the Loop, a website shared by Your Morning and CTV’s talk show, the Social. The social media crew also creates small videos for social media, which are often done with a handheld DSLR and the nearest thing to prop up the camera. The kitchen set at Your Morning isn’t in the same space as the regular set you see on TV in the morning. Chef Sang Kim is here, and ingredients are being meticulously placed on the countertop. Behind the counter, everything has a purpose and was carefully chosen. MacLean says at the show’s conception, it took an hour and a half to choose this countertop. Did it sparkle enough on camera, or was it too much? Was is the right size? Does it offset the brick walls and the backsplash? An hour-and-a-half for the countertops, and the sinks in the kitchen don’t even have plumbing access. Chefs are given bowls of water to clean their hands and cooking utensils. In the world of television, it really is all for show. The smell of Pad Thai is hanging in the air, and as the last bowl of spices has gotten aesthetic approval, Johanna Ovsenek, the show’s digital producer and content creator, can begin filming. Balancing her camera on the back of a chair, Ovsenek leans in close, focusing the camera on the pan while everyone behind her tries not to drool. The final result is a video recipe for Instagram—short and sweet with over 100 likes and 20 comments. Feel-good videos, Ovsenek says, do the best on social media, and recipes are the things that do the best of all their content . The team tries to look at each segment to see what they can repackage for online. They post about 15 to 20 things a day to their feeds to supplement their live content. Often, they flag guests on their way in to see if they have time to stick around, one of their most popular being offshoots from a segment with famed Canadian figure skating duo Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir. Your Morning is run every day with different audiences in mind, because as well as feel-good content does online, people want the news, says MacLean. She tries to imagine three different people
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in her head, rotating them often. Who is watching today? “It [could] be a single mother who’s in her 30s in Scarborough, is it a university professor who’s in his 60s and lives in Montreal, and does this story interest or resonate with all of them?” While covering world news is important, Your Morning tries to be Canadian first. What they cover is always changing based on a number of influences, like what viewers want, but more importantly, what viewers don’t want. “We’re still working things out,” says Bandukwala. The show has seen a few structural changes. At its launch, they didn’t cover sports except in their ticker, which runs along the bottom of the screen, but soon changed their minds and added a sports segment. They recognized that it was not working for them, scrapping the segment and moving sports back to the ticker that runs along the bottom of the screen. However, they still use the same format of a host walking with the screen as images change in the show, as they liked the setup. The team also tried to experiment with longer interviews with guests. “We felt like viewers might want [that] in the morning, to have a longer period of time,” says MacLean. They didn’t. “Maybe shorter is better.” They have also tweaked the timing of commercial breaks. There are monitors mounted on every possible surface, streaming live content, playing the news from other outlets. Hands hover over switchboards and keyboards, ready to move from one thing to the next at a moment’s, and even a millisecond’s, notice. Heather Milne, Your Morning’s coordinating producer, sits in her chair on an elevated platform in the control room. Attila Baraczka, the director and producer, sits in the middle, hands moving quickly, eyes flashing from screen to screen. Some days, the printed sheet of the show plan will go relatively untouched, and others, it will be full of scribbles and crossed-out segments. Things are moving fast, and Baraczka says this is what a calm day looks like. A group of about 10 people sit in here in the dark, the light from screens giving their faces an eerie glow. It’s three hours of live television, and as Milne notes with a smirk, “anything can happen.” Milne says working in the control room is like driving, but your hands aren’t on the wheel and you go wherever the ride takes you. “People at home don’t know what happens here,” says Milne. Often there’s a plan A, B, C, D and E. At this, Baraczka swings around in his chair to face Milne behind him. “There’s a what?” he asks with a laugh, spinning back to get the rest of the show out. “This is a calm day,” he says again. Satellite feeds pour in through screens—a live shot of a fire, of the street, of a newscaster, are rolling, and can be switched into the show’s lineup if warranted. One screen plays the show’s live feed and one plays the content that will be coming seconds later from pre-taped segments. Viewers sip coffee, scroll through their newsfeeds, and get ready for the day, taking the news as it comes. But the control room is working seconds ahead. Seconds ahead. Never stopping. Always changing.
Ian Cruickshank in the Scottish Highlands
Men of Letters
Plying the family trade in an industry on the rocks B Y ANDREW CRUICKSHANK IT WAS EMBARRASSINGLY LATE IN LIFE before I first read one of my
dad’s stories—nearer to age 20 than I’d like to admit. Teenage apathy had convinced me there was nothing exciting about my parents’ lives. But one afternoon, as the sun slanted through the second storey window of my dad’s office, I noticed a Toronto Star clipping laid out on his desk. A simple story, 600 words about a golf course development somewhere down in Arizona. The writing was transformative. Descriptors and metaphors I’d never seen paired crackled on the page. I could hear the rustle of the Arizona brush and the distant crack of the little white ball leaving the tee. It was the first time I realized my dad was innately talented at something other than shooting hoops or making mac and cheese. He was—and still is—a damn good freelance travel writer. My sister and I grew up in St. Andrews, Scotland—the home of golf and backdrop to the start of William and Kate’s royal love story. Each night, my dad put me to sleep with stories of chivalric knights saving princesses and dark wizards guarding misty towers. Eventually though, as I aged, he stopped telling stories and started handing me books; dense tomes like Jim Harrison’s Legends of the Fall and James Salter’s Burning the Days. Books that told stories but also embodied certain masculine lessons. I don’t know whether it was his intention to teach me, or whether he was just passing on his passion, but regardless, I began to see my dad’s life, the life of a writer, through rose-tinted glasses. Immediately after my undergraduate degree, I started travelling. I was under the assumption that if I collected enough experiences, the writing would come—not that I knew anything about writing or even pitching, for that matter. In May 2012, I found myself in New Delhi, India, working as an extra in a Bollywood film. During shooting one night, I watched through the open halo of Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium as an electrical storm galvanized the heavens and the film crew scrambled to cover cameras with tarps. The director, Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra, sat nearby, swiping at a game on his phone as he muttered, “Everything is chaos.” In July 2013, I ended a scorched morning in Tudela, Spain ALL PHOTOS: COURTESY IAN CRUICKSHANK
sitting saddle-style on a high wooden fence, panting with parched lips and dilated pupils after narrowly avoiding the horns of a charging bull. And in November 2014, I clambered up a crumbling section of China’s Great Wall, surveying the formidable feat of architecture as it snaked off along the spine of distant hills. There were other trips as well, but none of them lead to writing gigs. Instead, they made me wonder how my dad had established his career. He started freelancing in his mid-twenties, fresh off a history degree from the University of Toronto. He’d never written professionally for anyone, but was drawn to the job through family competition. “I had an older brother who got into it and he did pretty well, so I thought, ‘How hard can it be?’” My dad laughs. That older brother is John Cruickshank, who went on to serve as the publisher of the Toronto Star for seven years. My dad started by writing business pieces in the early eighties. At the time, that’s what publications were looking for. One of his first stories appeared in the Medical Post, a magazine aimed at Canadian doctors. “The doctors loved to read about themselves,” he jokes. The feature was on a doctor’s art collection, but when the piece was released, the doctor called the publication complaining that he’d been misrepresented, made to look like he only bought art for tax receipt purposes. “You’ve got a tape, right?” the editor at the Post asked my dad. My dad’s sheepish response: “Well, I had a tape.” Being naïve (and a little cheap), my dad had recorded over the interview for another story. Nothing came of the SPRING 2019 | RYERSON REVIEW OF JOURNALISM 127
Cruickshank (right) tees it up with pro golfer Greg Norman. Ian and Andrew, at home in St. Andrews (below)
doctor’s claims, but it was a lesson learned as a young writer. There were a few other mishaps throughout his career: a spool of tape erupting from a recorder during an interview with professional golfer Mark O’Meara; a source more interested in reading the newspaper than answering questions. But my dad cemented himself as a solid writer, winning the trust of editors. As he became more established, he moved away from business writing. “I didn’t like asking people why they were losing so much money and why they made big mistakes,” he says. “And a lot of it was over my head, the intricacies of the business stuff.” He shifted to travel writing two years into his career, freelancing for Leisureways, the Canadian Automobile Association magazine. From there, the gigs snowballed, leading to monthly travel columns in Fairways Magazine, ScoreGolf magazine, and the National Post, among others. His favourite column to write was for the Star, though. “It was the right length for me,” he says. “Six hundred to 800 words. I think I’m better with a shorter piece as opposed to a longer piece.” He hasn’t made a fortune writing these columns, but they have afforded him some pretty spectacular opportunities over the last 40 years. He’s soared over Australia’s Great Barrier Reef in a helicopter; eaten dinner with rock star Alice Cooper in Phoenix, Arizona; trekked to an observatory on
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Hawaii’s highest peak; and played at one of the largest golf complexes in the world, a 12-course behemoth called Mission Hills in Shenzhen, China. But the industry is changing and even my dad is feeling the effects. In 2017, the Star cut his travel column. He’d written it once a month for the last 13 years. And the pay for stories hasn’t changed much since he started, still lingering around 30 cents a word. Issues like these often leave him wondering whether he chose the right profession. “There were lots of middle-of-the-night things,” he says. “Tossing and turning, thinking about how the car payments were due, how my kids needed new shoes. So, yes. I did think about getting a stable job.” But much like an actor drawn to the stage, writing has always called him back. “I enjoy writing, and I think it’s a great thing, better than any occupation I can think of.” While my dad looks to the close of his career, I’m just getting started, and these issues linger. The anxiety over finding stable employment can be asphyxiating at times. My classmates and I are confronted daily with stories about job cuts and publication closures. When I tell friends I’m pursuing journalism, they pat me on the back and offer to cover my beer. And while my dad is proud of my choice, even he worries about my future. “I’m not sure whether I did my kids a favour or not by seeing my lifestyle, being at home working and then also travelling all over the world, because it’s made them sort of want to do the same thing.” But, looking at my dad’s career, I still have faith in the writer’s life. It just may be a different life than the one I first envisioned standing in my dad’s office. A few weeks ago, I walked in on him sitting in the basement, holding up old picture slides to the light, squinting through reading glasses. “I’ve got a lot of great pictures,” he said. “I’ve been to so many interesting places and done things most people never have the opportunity to do.” He placed the slide down amongst a series of piles organized by trip and looked up at me. “I think I might start giving talks.”
Under His Wing Critic Kevin Courrier’s respect for the craft of writing shone through in his mentoring of a new generation B Y LINSEY R ASCHKOWAN I KNEW OF KEVIN COURRIER before I actu-
ally knew him. He sat speaking with one of my coworkers in the Oakham Café at Ryerson University, where I worked. He was magnetic. I asked a coworker who he was, and she explained he was a film instructor at The G. Raymond Chang School of Continuing Education at Ryerson. Eventually, I approached Courrier (who was adorned in the black beret he was rarely seen without), not knowing I was about to meet someone who had played a vital role in the obscure Canadian criticism scene. In 2010, Courrier, along with Shlomo Schwartzberg and David Churchill, cofounded Critics At Large, a website written by film and pop-culture writers and critics who had retired from their professional work. On top of serving as editor-in-chief, Courrier provided in-depth analyses of the arts and pop culture, like the “spiritual solvent” of John Coltrane, or his perspectives on “ghosting,” in reference to Personal Shopper, a film directed by Olivier Assayas starring Kristen Stewart. Separately, he blogged for Luna Sea Notes, an independent music blog spot. He kept this quiet while I blabbered on about my journalism classes, my hopes of travel, and my ambitious plans for articles I dreamed of writing. Courrier, a freelance writer and broadcaster for CBC Radio, wanted to create a space for critics who felt a shift in the career of the mainstream critic, which is to say they felt more pressure to be career-driven. He and the co-founders of Critics at Large felt consumerism and conformity in the mainstream provided no room for individuality. Courrier wanted to create a space for critics to be honest. He succeeded in creating his website, a culturally significant blogging PHOTO: JOHN MARSONET
platform for critics to write without any inhibitions. And, for some reason, he chose to encourage my writing. I still don’t know why he did, and I never got the chance to ask, because Courrier died—or went to spirit—on October 12, 2018, aged 63. Courrier’s insightful and considerate comments were always my favourite to receive, making my writing more of a conversation with an audience than a onewoman monologue—like when I called a previous partner of mine a sociopath after a terrible breakup, and Courrier tastefully agreed that emotional stagnance in writing appeared pathological. I think his encouragement of my writing came naturally to him. He liked helping young writers. Geoff Pevere, a coworker and friend of Courrier’s, says this determination towards true criticism meant he encouraged and mentored a lot of people. And this inspiration carried through right until the end. Knowing I had someone like Courrier in my corner made me feel like I was a real writer. He was passionate (Pevere recalls a verbal argument Courrier got himself into on Yonge Street in the 1990s with a stranger who hated the works of Brian De Palma), and, at heart, a lover of the arts. His interest in my writing may have been circumstantial, but he (knowingly or not) validated my work on a professional, kind, and mature level that I was not used to. He once told me his favourite movie was Jean Renoir’s The Rules of the Game, after I pressed him for recommendations when he stopped by the cafe last year. I often spoke to him excitedly about prospective ideas around art, writing, and travel. He mirrored my enthusiasm, but with such humbleness
and grace. And he always encouraged me to write more. I still remember the moment he told me I should concentrate on writing, and that I was a good writer—perhaps gently chastising me for my lack of material. Courrier began his radio career in 1981, at CJRT-FM as a co-host and producer, before moving to CBC Radio in 1989. He is the writer of five books, which include critical, yet appreciative works on musicians such as Frank Zappa and Captain Beefheart, and two unofficial companion books for Law & Order. And these don’t even include the many positive and constructive comments on my blog posts. The comfort of his wisdom and his creative experience were indestructible, even when he would tell me about his chemotherapy treatment. He always knew the right things to say. Donald Brackett met Courrier around 1988 at CJRT-FM on a program called On the Arts, which Courrier co-hosted. “His skills made us inherently want to be better at our jobs, not to compete with him, which was likely impossible to do,” Brackett says, “but rather to be more fully devoted to the vocation of journalism itself.” It’s the most eloquent way anyone could put into words how I felt about my relationship with Courrier’s critiques. Never nasty, always encouraging. “He was also an equal opportunity communicator; able to talk to absolutely anybody in any walk of life with ease, whether it was a taxi driver—with whom he would often strike up friendships that lasted long after the meter stopped—or an elderly person [in need of] a word of encouragement, or a young kid needing a sense of direction,” Brackett says. “He had a gift.” I wrote last year of the fear and excitement related to travel, and Courrier was the first to offer his insights. I’d like to share what he wrote, since it’s valuable to anyone, and his words are beautiful. He wrote: “Once, before doing a poetry reading at a coffee house where I was opening for a Canadian poet I highly admired, I told him how nervous I was having to read before someone I held in such high regard. He told me: ‘You may feel terrified, but you might also be excited by the possibility of what’s ahead and it’s hard for you yet to tell the difference.’ He was right. Your excitement will see you through.”
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Can’t Get You Out of My Headline
Filled with coffee-stained notebooks, constantly-ringing phones, and battling egos, newsrooms are arguably the last place love might exist. But, like a flower growing out of cracked concrete, these journalist couples have proven otherwise. Here are their stories B Y K ATHERINE SINGH AND CELINA G ALL ARDO
Written in the Star Jim Rankin, reporter-photographer on the
crime, courts, and justice team at the Toronto Star, married to Michelle Shephard, former national security reporter for the Star. Met: Summer of 1995 in the Star parking lot. On their first meeting: MS: “I remember that summer was so hot. But I have this image of him always in a white linen shirt, khaki pants, curly-haired, and tanned, with two cameras slung over his shoulders. It was a pretty social summer and a great intern year, so we went out a lot. Jimmie was covering the Bernardo trial, which was horrible, [but he] joined us often. I just remember thinking he was one of the coolest journalists I knew. Jimmie’s not a big talker, but when he does say something, people listen.”
On cool opportunities together: MS: “Our trip to Yemen was quite memorable. I had wanted him to go because it was one of my favourite countries. He’d never been to Dubai, either, so I planned a stopover on the way home, splurging on one of those stupidly opulent hotels near the Burj Khalifa. I knew as a photographer, he’d be amazed by the light and architecture in Sana’a, [but] turns out it was a particularly bad rainy season. Sana’a International Airport was shut while we were there because of security concerns, [and] there was a garbage strike, so the beautiful Old City of Sana’a, a UNESCO site, looked like a dump, and he got wicked food poisoning in Dubai. Ha! We did have a pretty good laugh, though, and the trip was definitely an experience.”
Still Standing Elizabeth Renzetti, columnist and feature writer at the Globe and Mail, married to Doug Saunders, international affairs columnist at
the Globe. Met: Summer of 1995 at the Globe. On their first meeting: ER: “I actually don’t remember the first time I met him. Which is terrible, but true. He was a summer student at the Globe. We became friends, and I really liked him. He was super funny. I went off on a trip to South America with two of my friends—we weren’t dating at this point, but he made me a mixtape to take along with me. The one song I really remember is a song by Taj Mahal, which is a great blues song, called “She Caught the Katy (And Left Me a Mule to Ride).”
Hilary Caton, former journalist, now in communications at CAMH, engaged to Perry King, reporter at U of T News. Met: At a 2013 press conference at St.
On the role news played in their big day: KR: “I didn’t know our New York Times wedding announcement was coming. The reporter eventually did call me a couple of days before the wedding to verify a few facts, so that’s how I found out, but it was supposed to be a surprise on our wedding day. Stu had gotten that put together, and he surprised me with the announcement, [but] he didn’t know that I had also gone and had an announcement put in the Gazette and they were kind enough to do a little write up for us. So, we both got each other newspaper wedding announcements for our wedding without knowing the other was doing it. Stuart got the Times and I got our student newspaper. His seems a little more impressive.”
Michael’s College School. On not telling their co-workers: ER: “We were at the Butterfly Conservatory in Niagara Falls, and the Globe’s architecture critic, John Bentley Mays, saw us, and he said: ‘My, my, what have we here?’ But he didn’t tell anybody. Our boss only realized because I told her I was going to Costa Rica for a vacation, and then, a week later, Doug said separately, ‘Oh, I’m going to Costa Rica for a vacation.’ Everybody put two and two together.”
On limiting shop talk at home: JR: “We had this rule that we could go home and we’d make a pitcher of margarita and we could talk about work until the pitcher was gone. And then [we] stopped talking about work. And that seemed to work. That’s the one thing that is both a blessing and sometimes a curse, you know? If you’re both in the same newsroom, you can end up talking too much about work. But at the same time, if you’re going through something, the person you’re with understands completely the context of what’s happening. It’s a good sounding board.”
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Love on Background
On their connection: HC: “Journalism was the main thing that we connected on. We were both in the business, and we’re both people of colour. He was kind of like a unicorn to me because I was fresh out of university and I hadn’t really seen a Black guy working in print journalism. I thought it was rare. I went to school with about three or four guys who were Black, who were into journalism, but I counted them as different because we’re all kind of starting at the same time. But [Perry] had already been in the business. I bounced around a couple editorial departments, and while there were people of colour working there, [they weren’t] always creating content.”
On how they met: HC: “I was at a news conference, and to get into the conference, you had to pass behind the podium. Everyone is facing the podium, and then Perry came in late, so I thought: ‘Oh my God, this guy came in late.’ Then, when I gave him a second look, I thought: ‘Oh, he’s kind of cute, though.’ After that conference, I had texted my best friend and said: ‘Oh my God, there was a really cute guy at this news conference, but I didn’t talk to him.’ When my friend asked why, I said: “Well, I was working. I’m not going to pick up a dude while I’m trying to be professional.” On how they met: PK: “I didn’t know her name, and didn’t know where she was writing for. I didn’t write the same day because I had other stuff to file. So, I started writing it the next week and thought: “What else has been written? What stories would have been good for background?” And her stuff comes up. I Googled her name and it was—oh my gosh— it’s the same girl. So, I just started following her on Twitter. I didn’t really expect anything at all. And then she followed me back, and we had a conversation on Twitter.”
ALL PHOTOS: COURTESY OF SUBJECTS
Marrying the Lede: Two News Nerds Find Love in a Hopeless Place Kaleigh Rogers, freelance journalist, married to Stuart A. Thompson, graphics direc-
tor, opinions section at the New York Times. Met: In the Gazette newsroom at Western University in 2009. On how they met: KR: “We were both editors at the Gazette. When we first met, I was a writer and he was one of the news editors. The following year, he was the editor-in-chief and I was one of the news editors. First, we were just friends, the way everybody in the student newspaper gets really close because you’re spending so much time together. After awhile, the friendship just kind of blossomed into something more. I made the first move. I was messaging him over a break and mentioned that I really missed the folks from the Gazette, and I said: ‘I miss you.’ He wrote back and said: ‘Yeah, you know, I miss everybody from the newsroom, too.’ I replied and said: ‘No, I miss you,’ which was my way of not-so-subtly letting him know that I was interested in him.
Interviews have been edited and condensed for clarity
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Signs and Bylines
The journalist’s horoscope B Y MICHAL STEIN SINCE ANCIENT TIMES, humans have
mapped the night sky to find answers to life’s greatest questions. We turn to the North Star (when our GPS fails) to guide us through until dawn. We track the placement of the Big Dipper to work out how long we’ve got until the spring thaw. We see flashing lights and wonder: Is it a satellite, or is there a chance we’re not alone in the universe? With so much uncertainty in the journalism job market, we’re taking a look at what the stars have in store for our budding journalism careers. ARIES (Mar. 21 – Apr. 19) If you haven’t called up Edna Mode to make you a fireproof suit yet, you better get on it. You move so fast that sometimes it feels like you could explode. Fiery Aries lives life in the fast lane, and your idea of a good work day is one where you spend a third of it running around and a third yelling into the phone. The other third is spent putting your agenda together. You’ve got the kind of energy that would make a breaking news desk feel like lifestyle content. Any slower than that and you’ll fall asleep. Your RRJ Matches: David Venn (Senior Print Editor)
TAURUS (Apr. 20 – May 20) “Pfft. I don’t believe in horoscopes. It’s all gobbledygook,” says every Taurus ever. If only you weren’t all such perfectly typical Tauruses. You’ve got two feet planted firmly in the material world, helping to keep the rest of us down to earth. You, reliable Taurus, would do well as a fashion reporter or a managing editor. Sure, horoscopes aren’t real. It’s definitely a coincidence that both our managing editors just happen to be Tauruses. Your RRJ Matches: Daniel Mullie (Managing Print Editor), Katherine Singh (Managing Online Editor)
LEO (Jul. 23 – Aug. 22) Turn to face the sun, because there’s nothing you love more than basking in the limelight. Your magnetic demeanour (and love for attention) mean people are happy to indulge your small-screen dreams. The ever-dramatic Leo makes a natural television anchor. You know how to charm a camera and within a week, you’d have television audiences eating out of the palm of your hand. Make sure you keep some earth signs around you to keep you grounded, lest your self-confidence inflates to arrogance. Your RRJ Matches: Linsey Raschkowan (Chief of Research)
LIBRA (Sep. 23 – Oct. 22 Some may call you superficial, but your perpetually neat desk is the epitome of #aesthetic. You’ve somehow managed to keep your succulents alive even though you’re nowhere near a window. Diplomatic and balanced Libras have a knack for designing layout. Your sense of space and Swiss-like ability to remain neutral during conflict make it hard for others to stay mad at you even when you bury their articles next to the classifieds.
PISCES (Feb. 19 – Mar. 20) You’re crying to an old John Mayer song. It’s not that you’re sad, it’s just that it reminds you of the Friday nights you spent in high school, making collages to give to your friends on their birthdays. Nothing made you happier than seeing your creations hung up in their lockers. You, Pisces, ever the sensitive artist, would be well suited to the art department, or perhaps as photographers. You’re always dreaming with a broken heart.
Your RRJ Matches: Jordana Goldman (Social Media Editor)
Your RRJ Matches: Olivia Bednar (Senior Print Editor), Bryan Meler (Chief of Research), Alexa Taylor (Copy Editor), Aurora Zboch (Sales and Sponsorships Editor)
GEMINI (May 21 – Jun. 20) Quick-witted Geminis toe the line between keeping everyone entertained and pissing everyone off. You can’t help yourself—you just love to hear yourself talk. People like to say that you’re two faced, but you prefer the term multifaceted. Ruled by Mercury, the planet of communication, you’re gifted with words. An on-air broadcasting job would satisfy your need for attention. But flexible Geminis like to have a few tasks on the go— throw in a weekly column, if you can.
VIRGO (Aug. 23 – Sep. 22) You’ve found four mistakes in this magazine already, haven’t you? We sincerely apologize for sending you into an errorinduced downward spiral. You, dear Virgo, with your hawkish sensibility for the tiniest details make wonderful fact checkers and copy editors, because yes, it does matter if something happened in “early fall” or if it happened in October, dammit. What can you say? You’re a perfectionist. They’ll thank you later.
SCORPIO (Oct. 23 – Nov. 21) You were practically born in a trenchcoat and press hat. You may as well be Carmen Sandiego. Since you’re used to slinking around dark corners and eavesdropping on other people’s conversations, it’s not a stretch to get into investigative reporting. Your wily ways charm unsuspecting sources into giving you what you need, and you don’t have to worry about morality weighing you down. If that doesn’t work out, start a sex column. Carrie Bradshaw’s got nothing on you, Scorpio.
CAPRICORN (Dec. 22 – Jan. 19) “Hold on. Let me look that up,” you say, pulling out your phone and interrupting your friend in the middle of a story. Everstubborn Capricorns are natural-born leaders with a commitment to traditional values. Bespectacled, with your grandfather’s suspenders holding up your sensible khakis, you’re ready to dole out advice to the new reporter assigned to the desk next to you— even if they’re only six months younger than you. Capricorns are excellent fact checkers and would make damn fine editors-in-chief.
Your RRJ Matches: Adam Chen (Conference Editor), Andrew Cruickshank (Chief Copy Editor), Rhianna Jackson-Kelso (Senior Print Editor), Michal Stein (Chief Podcast Producer)
Your RRJ Matches: Kyra Butterworth (Senior Online Editor), Madeline Cornacchia (Visuals Editor), Jordan Currie (Copy Editor)
Your RRJ Matches: Skyler Ash (Print Production Editor), Hannah Ziegler (Senior Online Editor)
Your RRJ Matches: The Oakham House Poltergeist
SAGITTARIUS (Nov. 22 – Dec. 21) Some call you flighty, but really you just can’t stand to be tied down. Ever the funloving Sagittarius, you want the freedom to move with the wind. You’ve always wanted to go to the Amazon, and if you manage to pitch a personal essay about finding yourself through ayahuasca, you could cover the cost of the flight. Just try not to get any vomit on your notebook. Can you even make a career out of travel writing anymore?
CANCER (Jun. 21 – Jul. 22) You’ve been giving your friends advice (solicited or not) for years, so you may as well get paid to do it. You’re a child of Mariah, a kin of Carly Rae, which is to say, you know a thing or two about Emotion. Start thinking up your pen name, sensitive Cancer, because your advice column is going to make people want to cry, quit their jobs, chase after love, or leave it all behind and start a new life in Tahiti.
Your RRJ Matches: Sarah Krichel (Chief Online Copy Editor and Senior Editor), Tanner Morton (Managing Editor: Audience and Business Development)
Your RRJ Matches: Lidia Abraha (Podcast Producer), Alanna Rizza (Online Production Editor)
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ILLUSTRATIONS: DAVE DONALD
AQUARIUS (Jan. 20 – Feb. 18) You told yourself the last time that you wouldn’t get into another fight with a Twitter troll, but here you are. You wear SJW (social justice warrior) as a badge of pride and you’re not afraid to call people out. You, independent Aquarius, have a strong moral compass and need to feel like you’ve made a difference with your work. You’re naturally drawn to the social justice beat, even though it can take a toll. What’s a few wrinkles in exchange for changing the world? Your RRJ Matches: Celina Gallardo (Editor and Chief Visuals Editor)
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Liz Renzetti explores what it means to be a woman the same way she always has: with wit and wisdom to spare B Y MICHAL STEIN ELIZABETH RENZETTI WOULDN’T LET ME leave her
house without taking a third of a carrot cake with me. No, not a third of a piece. A third of a cake. The carrot cake she sends me home with is from Harbord Bakery, a legendary Toronto spot known for its cheese danishes. A book club she was invited to speak at served it as dessert, with Shrewed, the name of her 2018 book of essays, iced on top in a delicate cursive. It was almost a shame to cut into it, but if you’ve ever had carrot cake from Harbord Bakery, you know it would be more of a shame to have not. The book club consisted of six women gathered in a living room across the street from Renzetti’s midtown Toronto home to discuss Shrewed. Multi-coloured Christmas lights framed a big picture window, even though it was well into January (both Renzetti and her neighbour planned to leave up their Christmas lights until Easter). One of the women asks her why she writes with humour. “One, I just don’t know how to write any other way,” she says. “Two, if you didn’t laugh, you would cry. If I did not laugh I would still be in bed. Like, with the duvet pulled over my head, crying.” Navigating ever-shifting gender dynamics is never easy—let alone writing about it. But for Renzetti, humour (and carrot cake) helps. Renzetti has been writing about women’s issues since the early 1990s. Her first column for the Globe and Mail in 1993 was a response to the Globe’s then-new Men’s column. She wrote: “So, does this newspaper—with its all-male editorial board, its preponderance of male columnists, its overwhelmingly malesourced stories—need a Men’s column? Isn’t it a men’s newspaper already?” That question, posed 25 years ago, feels just as relevant today. “It’s funny because I’ve been pretty much writing the exact same column for the last 20, whatever it is, almost 26 years now,” she says. On a cold January day, a few days before the book club, Renzetti’s home is warm and smells like orange and spices. “Complexity is what makes life interesting. And nuance. And shades of grey. So, I’m drawn to looking at those things,” she reflects, a cup of tea in hand.
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“I think the interesting thing in the world is to examine these little tiny nuances and places of complexity, and it’s sad to me that right now that nuance is really lost. It’s lost in this barrage of screaming and very hardened positions that people have and intransigent ideas that you can only be on this one side or this one side. And it makes nuanced discussion very, very difficult.” A little humour can go a long way when it comes to cutting through the barrage of screaming and hardened positions in 2019. In “You’ll pay for those breasts, or the cost of being a lady,” an essay in Shrewed, Renzetti poses the question: “How does every woman not become a Marxist revolutionary when she realizes the ridiculous price attached to her gender? Earlier this year I spent $500 on six PHOTO: LISA MACINTOSH
bras, and not one of them is made from unicorn foreskin.” In the essay, she details the exorbitant cost associated with womanhood, but also examines the fine line between fighting the patriarchy while playing the game (read: $100 girdles). “To be human is to be full of contradictions,” she writes. “To be a feminist woman is to walk around, daily, confronted with your empowerment and your diminishment at the hands of others: The soap that tells you to live your best authentic self; the $200 vial of bee venom serum that tells you your authentic self is a wrinkly affront to the world at large.” Renzetti, 52, came to Ryerson University for journalism school in 1985, where she worked at the Ryersonian, the school’s newspaper. After graduating in 1988, Renzetti did a summer internship at the Globe and Mail, where she was a copy editor. She didn’t get hired right away, but in 1989, while she was travelling in Europe, she got a call that they had a job for her. She came back as a copy editor, floating around all the desks. Cathrin Bradbury, now the senior director of news at CBC, worked with Renzetti at the Globe in the nineties. “She’s funny as hell. Not just on the page, but in person. She’s a great wit, and that makes any conversation worth having, and she’s a terrific writer,” Bradbury says. “She’s a wordsmith, and a fast wordsmith, I might add. She can write beautifully and quickly, which is a rare combination.” “She is an editor’s dream in many respects,” says Natasha Hassan, the opinion editor at the Globe. “The thing that I think sets her columns apart is the humanity in her writing.” She recalls the column that Renzetti wrote the day after the Sandy Hook shootings. It made Hassan cry. “I went back and looked at our email exchanges and she filed it with a note: here you go, I’m going to have a large scotch.” When the National Newspaper Award finalists were announced on March 19, and Renzetti wasn’t nominated, Hassan was disappointed. “She has never been nominated in column writing, and I think that’s a travesty.” Novelist Katherine Ashenburg was an arts and books editor at the Globe in the nineties. She reflects on a conversation she had with the Globe’s former film critic, Rick Groen, about how Renzetti was the kind of writer who has a gift for metaphor. She recalls a review that Renzetti had written where she described “somebody—like, Mick Jagger—as ‘thin as an excuse.’” When asked to reflect on an aspect of their friend that others may not know, Bradbury and Ashenburg give pretty much the same response: she’s a spectacular mother and fabulous cook. But when Bradbury was last over for dinner, what really impressed her was the caliber of conversation; not only with Renzetti and her husband Doug Saunders, (who also writes for the Globe), but also with their children. They were engaged, they were thoughtful, and they enjoyed keeping up with Renzetti and Saunders’ dinnertime sparring about whatever was going on in the news that day.
In many ways, motherhood has always been a cornerstone of feminist discourse, and Renzetti has written about her experiences as a mother in her column and in Shrewed. “The fact that I have in my house a bright, hilariously funny, compassionate young woman is both wonderful and terrifying. You can’t help feeling as if you’re Daenerys Targaryen, the mother of dragons, living on the edge in an upheaved world,” she wrote in her column from October 13, 2018. Renzetti is constantly tasked with thinking about what it means to be a woman—to be a feminist—in the present moment. She also has a career that spans over 25 years to draw upon, and a lot has changed since she started out. She points to young feminists bringing to light the problem with, as she says, “What has come to be
“ She’s funny as hell and she’s a wordsmith—a fast wordsmith, I might add. She can write beautifully and quickly, which is a rare combination” called ‘white feminism,’ and I think that’s been a huge change in the past few years. The idea that inclusivity has to be at the centre of the movement has become so much more important, and to me, is vital. If the movement is going to continue, if it’s going to grow, it’s going to be meaningful.” For her, this means that when she’s asked to speak on a panel, she tries her best to ensure it’s not only made up of white women, and if she can’t take an opportunity, she tries to recommend someone who hasn’t had as big of a platform. What’s next for Renzetti is her move to Berlin in August for a year. “Doug has a fellowship with…the Bosch Academy. Like, the dishwasher people.” While a transatlantic move with two teenagers in tow might sound daunting, for Renzetti, Saunders, and their children, it’s an adventure. “The kids are super excited. I think that’s a credit to Liz—she’s got kids that aren’t frightened [of] that kind of change,” Bradbury says. Renzetti plans to continue writing from Berlin. “I think sometimes about journalism—it has its many downsides, but…I can’t think of another job that allows you to just go out and talk to really interesting people all the time,” she says. And, if you’re lucky, people will bring you a carrot cake with the title of your book written on it with icing. SPRING 2019 | RYERSON REVIEW OF JOURNALISM 135
Stage Write Taking longform journalism off the page B Y ADAM CHEN SINCE MAGAZINE JOURNALISM leapt from
the printed page onto the internet, audiences have had more access to long-form narrative stories than ever. So much so that a scroll through a social media feed can present an almost overwhelming amount of content. Enter live journalism, where storytellers are no longer bound behind a microphone, camera, or the pages of a magazine, and audiences are no longer an anonymous voice in the comments section. This return to direct, human engagement is giving journalists and publications a chance to have their stories heard without all the distractions that come with consuming content on phones and computers. For a brief period of time, audiences can see a story unfold right before their eyes, and afterwards, raise their hands with questions or remarks, speaking directly to the reporters themselves. There are a number of companies taking charge in developing this new medium. De Balie Amsterdam runs around 1,000 innovative workshops and discussions between journalists and the public every year, all housed in a 19th century Dutch courthouse. And on the more performative end of the spectrum, companies like Live Magazine, based in France and Belgium, and Pop-Up Magazine, based in California, offer evenings of journalistic long-form storytelling. During Pop-Up’s stop in Toronto on their fall 2018 tour, storytellers were joined on stage by a live band and a large screen, playing complimentary content like animations and video footage. And during their shows, the company enforces a strict no cellphone policy. Making a piece of narrative journalism work in front of a live audience takes a particular kind of story. When Pop-Up approached Toronto-based journalist
Katherine Laidlaw looking for ideas for the tour lineup, they liked her upcoming Toronto Life piece on voyeurism, detailing the arrest of a tech entrepreneur who was caught secretly filming his roommates. Laidlaw was an acquaintance of the story’s main character, Pete Forde, and she drew on interactions with him to make the story more engaging for the audience. “They didn’t want it to be some thirdperson, blow-by-blow narrative,” Laidlaw says. Instead, she added personal reflections on the subject matter throughout the performance. Toward the end of her piece, Laidlaw even began questioning her own habits, including a time she took photos of an ex-boyfriend while he was sleeping. “That part was not in the Toronto Life piece,” she says. Her live edit also required a shift in language and tone. “In magazines, you’re sort of writing with an authoritative, third-person perspective,” explains Laidlaw, who says
magazine writing tends to be more opaque and focused on literary excellence. But the live version is personal, allowing her to connect to her audience by addressing them with “you” and “we”. And in order to fine tune her vernacular, Laidlaw sent audio recordings of her reading later drafts of the script aloud to her Pop-Up Magazine editor. “There were a few instances where I was sort of stumbling, or it didn’t flow as naturally as we wanted it to,” she says. “Anytime there was the slightest hesitation or break in the rhythm, we’d changed it to make it sound like something more natural.” With around ten performances per show, the storytellers must work to keep the
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audience’s attention. Each story, no matter how long the print version, is typically cut down to about ten minutes, or 2,000 words. This wasn’t easy for Laidlaw, who’s original piece was around 7,000 words long. Many vivid details and scenes were cut from the live version, including the police investigation, the raid on the apartment, and the rich character development of the women involved. “That wasn’t a change that I loved, but I’ve been an editor and I know that you don’t always get to keep the stuff that you want.” Laidlaw explains that these parts didn’t fit directly with the focused narrative of the stage version. Although journalists work within the world of communications, many of them aren’t public speakers, making performance work intimidating. “I’m much more the sort of writer, sitting in my little office, scribbling away,” Laidlaw says. “And I so much prefer to let the words speak for themselves.” Fortunately, Pop-Up Magazine made this experience as painless as possible for her. She was siloed into her own role as the storyteller, and she had the script in her hand, with cues for music and when to pause for effect. The stage lighting kept her from seeing the audience, although she could hear their gasps and laughter. This feedback was unlike anything she’d experienced when working with the written word. “When you’re a magazine writer, you’ll occasionally get feedback on Twitter, that sort of thing, [but] it’s often negative,” she says, which feels distant and less substantial. After the performance, the audience was invited to the bar to get a drink and chat with the journalists, where Laidlaw received direct and personal feedback on her piece. “It’s so rare to get that dialogue in person. It was such a pleasure.” Laidlaw’s favourite part of the experience was seeing people getting excited over stories. “I’m passionate about storytelling, and I would like to continue to see journalism succeed in my lifetime,” she says. “And if this is one of the ways to do it, then I will get more comfortable with public speaking.”
PHOTO: TATUM DOOLEY / MAGAZINE SPREAD: TORONTO LIFE