When the Vancouver Canucks lost to the Boston Bruins last June, resulting in mobs of disgruntled Canucks fans rioting in their very own city, all Canadians suffered a terrible embarrassment. 

For B.C. journalists, insult was only added to injury when the Vancouver Police Department demanded that six local media outlets, including The Globe and Mail, The Vancouver Sun, The Province, Global News, CBC, and CTV, release any and all photo and video images of the event. 

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Though the outlets fought for four months to dissuade the judge from allowing police to seize the footage, a court order handed down in mid-January said that the media must comply. And comply they did. But not before posting their material online for their own readers.

Curious parties can now see all of the images taken by photographers at both The Province and The Vancouver Sun, allowing readers, according to the Sun, to “see whether their images are included in the massive police file assembled for riot investigation."

Regarding the court order demanding their compliance, the outlets have all expressed dissatisfaction over their compromised journalistic independence. Troy Reeb, vice president of Global News, made a statement saying that “the ability to operate independently is fundamental to the practice of journalism, and Global News will continue to vigorously defend this principle in the future. It is important for both the safety of our journalists, and the integrity of their investigative work, that they not be seen as gathering evidence for police.”

To view the selection of over 5,000 photos, visit www.pngphoto.com 
Posted on January 31, 2012

CNN journalist and professional silver fox Anderson Cooper got quite the shock on his daytime talk show, Anderson, late last week.

Cooper's production staff have started a "Mystery Guest" segment on his show where he gets a few hints of whom he'll be meeting, and is then surprised by his next guest.

After the guest revealed three hints about himself, the giddy Cooper realized it was The Fonz himself, Henry Winkler.

Cooper was so excited by Winkler's reveal that he tipped the set's coffee table over right after screaming, "OH MY GOD. HOLY. IS IT FONZIE?"

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Anderson is daytime-friendly in every way. His shows vary from interviewing Amy Winehouse's parents to talking about his own troubled family. It's a pretty significant departure from the hard news he covers on his CNN show, AC360.

Between his new show and his co-hosting gigs with Kelly Ripa, Cooper is more like the girlfriend you would invite over for drinks than a newsman. Anderson, where are your thick-rimmed glasses? Your gravitas? Your tie? Haven't you learned anything? Look at Geraldo. Look at Geraldo and then look at your future.

Not that you can't have it all. Just look at my boyfriend, NBC Nightly News anchor Brian Williams. He consistently brings the funny without losing face as NBC's news authority. (I'm also just looking for excuses to look at his face.)

Cooper, however, has entered fanboy territory. Talk show hosts are perpetually lodged up the collective asses of movie stars, singers, and television psychics. I can't tell if he's still a journalist or if he's one of those housewives who stand outside of The Today Show during the fourth hour, holding a sign that says, "POUR ME A GLASS, HODA," and stops breathing when Rachael Ray waves to him.

Does Cooper want to be Wolf Blitzer or Oprah?

But, I mean, in his defence, it was The Fonz. Ayyyy.
Posted on January 30, 2012

At first glance, Beta620 sounds especially nefarious—perhaps, the name of a chemical substance that will turn us all into Republicans, or a Bond movie plot to destroy United Nations HQ. But in truth, it’s the code name for The New York Times’ experimental projects group. That such a group even exists is a sign that the direction and scope of the journalism industry is shifting, that it's no longer enough to simply report on the issues of the day, but present and interpret them in a meaningful way. Of course, it probably helps that the projects created by the group are actually quite cool too.

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The latest, according to a Nieman Lab post on the subject:

“Deep Dive uses the Times’ massive cache of metadata from stories to go, as the name suggests, deeper into a news event by pulling together related articles. So instead of performing a search yourself within the Times and weeding out off-topic results, Deep Dive would provides readers a collection of stories relating to a topic, based on whatever person, place, event or topic of their choosing.”

The goal is to make it easier for readers to understand the context of a given story or view its development over time. A reader starts with a root article, and related stories and content are displayed in sidebar to the left. In some ways, the current iteration feels reminiscent of an RSS reader, except the content is algorithmically picked and ordered by Deep Dive instead. The idea is that “individual articles are really pieces of a larger story, told in pieces over time and across bylines and datelines.” If you're interested, you can try an early beta version of Deep Dive on the Times' experimental projects site now (although it is currently only possible to explore the demo's root article).

Deep Dive is just the latest in a trend among news organizations to make their reportage more accessible to readers. The Times, for example, is using Deep Dive to leverage its sizable archive of back issue content to provide more complete reportage on an issue. ProPublica, meanwhile, made the novel decision to include an “Explore Sources” mode on some of its stories, which annotates the article with interviews, quotes and source material in an effort to demonstrate how large features are constructed. If anything, such efforts are a good step forward at evolving the presentation and consumption of news beyond the traditional block of text and links.

 

Posted on January 27, 2012

Tony Burman gestures to the projector screen to his left, and it floods with riot footage from the Egyptian revolt against former president Hosni Mubarak. Al Jazeera’s cameras captured scenes that make Toronto’s G20 look like a playground squabble: mobs trying to topple a police van into the Nile, civilians shot while carrying bodies out of the mob’s warpath, ecstatic crowds in Tahrir Square when Mubarak announced his resignation.

Burman, the former head of Al Jazeera English and, before that, CBC News, presented a lecture titled “News Over Noise in the Age of Al Jazeera” as a part of Ryerson’s International Issues discussion series on January 18. Speaking without a microphone, Burman captivated the hall full of students and faculty, recounting memories of working as a broadcast journalist in the Middle East. He contrasted highlights such as witnessing Nelson Mandela being freed from prison with low points, like the ramifications of the American government turning on Al Jazeera during the war on Iraq. Burman stands firmly opposed to the superficial coverage of Eastern affairs generated by most of the American media outlets, and says his goal is to help his audience understand the whole story, not just a slice. 

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Since its 2006 launch, the English branch of the news network has given a voice to the voiceless in a part of the world where the media are predominantly comprised of what Burman calls “state-run propaganda machines.” The Al Jazeera effect has confirmed Burman’s belief that fair and fearless media have the power to trigger global change.

He closes the lecture with the story of Birhan Woldu, the starving three-year-old his CBC documentary crew stumbled upon in 1984. They were told Birhan only had about 15 minutes to live, and her father had started to dig her a grave. But as he was about to lay her in the dirt, Birhan’s father noticed a faint pulse. She made a miraculous recovery, and her story made her the face of the Ethiopian famine. CBC’s documentary struck its audience in a way that much of the famine coverage had failed to do, sparking a flurry of aid and donations from around the world. What I took away from the lecture is that there is enormous power in good journalism, and scraping the surface of an issue simply isn’t enough to ignite the public and incite change.

“Birhan remembers that, and so should we,” says Burman.

Lead image via Matthew Wright

 

Posted on January 25, 2012

NBC Nightly News anchor Brian Williams is making news himself for once, after an email correspondence critical of his own network was posted online for all to see.

In a private email to Gawker editor Nick Denton sent on January 15 (the pair are apparently friends), Williams criticized the popular media and gossip blog for not featuring enough TV content on the site's front page—and more importantly, for not "torching" Lana Del Ray's Saturday Night Live performance. Denton—unsurprisingly, given Gawker's history—published Williams's email on the site.

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Of course, it didn't seem malicious. All Denton did was share Williams’s email online. But it included language not expected from a 52-year-old who started as an intern with President Jimmy Carter's administration.

 

It was Williams’s comment about YouTube sensation and "Brooklyn hipster" Lana Del Ray’s January 15 SNL performance that had NBC PR emailing Gawker to ask that the posted email be removed. "Lana Del Rey had one of the worst outings in SNL history last night,” Williams wrote, “booked on the strength of her TWO SONG web EP, the least-experienced musical guest in the show's history, for starters.” Gawker instead updated the post, sharing the follow-up email from NBC PR, which asked for the post's immediate removal in the name of maintaining NBC's "trust and respect" for Gawker

Since the debacle, Williams has not spoken out about his exchange with Gawker. All in all, it’s been a rough week for the budding journalistic bromance—particularly for Williams, since he checks “[Gawker’s] shit 10 times a day by iPhone.”





 

Posted on January 25, 2012

 

Editors, reporters, photographers, and others in the industry have all been questioning the future of journalism. Specifically, figuring out how to cover news faster and better than the competition, while still making more money than said competition. What can be done to revolutionize? Is it possible that graphic novels are an answer?

Now, graphic novels may not single-handedly “save” journalism, but they could be a good start. Business journalist Aziz Ali recently wrote an article that appeared on the website PSFK, explaining how the graphic novel can improve business journalism. And while Ali’s article focused on his preferred area, these tactics that come from using the graphic novel as a way of delivering news could feasibly be applied to all beats.

Ali looked specifically at the graphic novel The Zen of Steve Jobs, which was put together by Forbes Magazine and creative agency JESS3. The journalist behind Zen, Caleb Melby, pointed out that “while journalism remains an industry in crisis,” if we work to find fresh, new ways of storytellingalong with adding some sort of human elementwe’re moving one step closer to helping the industry's precarious future.

 

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With Zen, Melby first did the reporting and research, then put all of his information together by way of a movie script“because I had no idea how to sketch out a graphic novel at the time”and the novel progressed from there.

 

Another journalist who's used the graphic novel to present news differently is Joe Sacco, author of Palestine. Melby explains that Sacco’s work “is a medium that’s really rich in storytelling, and it allows you to do a lot of different things with it as a journalist.”

So for all you journalists worried about what might become of increasingly cryptic profession, fret not. As Melby says, “the written word is still incredibly powerful.”

Lead image via JESS3.

 

Posted on January 25, 2012

This hasn't been the most exemplary week for our craft. It's a week in which popular Independent columnist Johann Hari officially left his job because of plagiarism; in which disgraced journalist (and storyteller) Stephen Glass may be licensed to practise law; in which Rush Limbaugh proposed an investigation into the personal life of the ABC News journalist who had the gall to interview Newt Gingrich's ex-wife.

Actually, let's just deal with that last one for now. Some of you might have seen last Thursday's GOP debate, wherein moderator and CNN anchor John King opened with a question to Gingrich about Brian Ross's interview with the former speaker's ex-wife, Marianne Ginther, who said that Newt had asked for an open marriage. To which Gingrich responded: "I think the destructive, vicious, negative nature of much of the news media makes it harder to govern this country, harder to attract decent people to run for public office, and I am appalled that you would begin a presidential debate on a topic like that."

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In any case, Ross's interview led Rush Limbaugh to question why a journalist's own personal life should be off-limits, asking, "Are journalists faithful?" His point was that journalists are rarely subjected to the kind of probing their subjects are (obviously). But what Rush the Uniter was getting at, in his inimitable way, was the same age-old issue of the liberalized media. A Gallup poll last fall found that 47 percent of Americans perceive a distinctly liberal bias in the mass media, whereas only 13 percent perceive a conservative one. No surprise there. The issue of media bias—and more precisely, a left-leaning media bias—has been going around (and around, and around...) for decades. It's a topic that isn't covered in journalism schools as much as it probably should be.

It's not just the bias, though: it's that we're so blatant about it. Nobody expects a journalist to be completely neutral, and anyone who says she is is full of shit. The interview with Ginther was indeed scandalous, and no hard-hitting reporter (or moderator) would avoid the question. But how 'bout some tact? It's one thing to ask a scandalous question; it's quite another to start a supposedly professional debate with the most gossipy issue at hand. It makes all journalists look bad, because the viewer witnesses directly where Gingrich's response is coming from. ("Goddamn liberals! They're at it again!") Journalists aren't doing themselves any favours with this kind of publicity; there's a pettiness to the approach that has become more common over the last decade. You can see it in Toronto: more columnists would rather poke fun at Rob Ford's weight or his cuss words than do the hard work of deducing whatever serious policy faults he might have.

Point the finger where you will. (I blame leftover Gen-X resentment.) And expect to hear more talk than ever in 2012 about an out-of-touch media. Sure, it might get irritating for us journalists. But we can't say it won't be exciting, and it's been too long since our chosen field has been forced to confront itself with this level of bile-fuelled scrutiny. Bring it on. It's been a bad week, but it'll be a good year.

Lead image via The Associated Press/The Washington Times.

Posted on January 24, 2012

"That Was Then, This Is Now" explores the beginnings of some of Canada's favourite writers and journalists

“In Grade 12, my English teacher came to me and said The Sault Star was putting together something called the Teen Page,” says the Toronto Star’s award-winning investigative reporter Dale Brazao, remembering his first experience in journalism. Every Friday, the paper would dedicate one page to the four high schools in Sault Ste. Marie. Brazao’s teacher told him he had “the gift of storytelling” and urged him to apply. “So I volunteered, and I became the teen writer for [my school] in The Sault Star every Friday,” he recalls.

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The paper’s teen writers would often report on a school dance or sporting event, but Brazao had other ideas: his first story was about a local all-girls high school that was expelling students for smoking on school property. “I teamed up with a photographer from The Sault Star and we went down the laneway behind the school and took a picture,” he remembers, “and I interviewed all these girls in Catholic school uniforms, lined up against the fence, puffing away and passing the butt down the line.” While everyone else was reporting on Sadie Hawkins dances and broken pipes in their school cafeterias, Dale was writing about girls who were facing expulsion for smoking on their lunch breaks. “When [the story] came out that weekend with the headline and the byline that said, ‘Dale Brazao, Teen Writer,’ it felt good.... So I did that for the rest of the year.”

Before The Sault Star’s Teen Page, Brazao had never written anything beside English papers. When he asked his guidance counselor what journalism was all about, he was told he should apply to Carleton University. His acceptance letter came soon after.

At the end of his fourth year at Carleton, the Toronto Star came looking for fresh recruits for its summer program. “I started [at the Star] on May 10, 1976, and I’ve been here ever since,” says Brazao. “If it weren’t for that little tryout as a teen writer at The Sault Star, I don’t know where I would have gone.”

Posted on January 24, 2012

On Friday, December 9, 2011, The Globe and Mail published a story called "How the taboo on reporting suicide met its end," regarding journalistic coverage of teen suicide. The article looked at the pros of suicide news coverage, including the ability for such stories to raise awareness. But there were also cons, including the potential for such stories to actually increase suicide rates, and the oversimplification of suicide by attributing its cause to single factors, such as bullying.

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The author, Steve Ladurantaye, writes:

"Canadian newsrooms have been averse to covering suicides for decades, deferring to medical studies that suggest publicizing suicide results is “contagion” – the idea that stories about young people killing themselves lead to more young people killing themselves and should be avoided.

"But in the past few years journalists have taken their cues from celebrities and parents-turned-advocates who have created a cottage industry out of suicide awareness.”

While there has been a shift in the “no suicide coverage” rule among journalists and news organizations, oversimplification in suicide stories in the name of succinct journalism still persists. By suggesting that a single cause—be it bullying or a sudden tragedy—is at the root of suicide, it’s easy to neglect the underlying mental-health issues that may exist as well. As a result, mental health concerns—arguably as pressing as obesity and heart disease—are deemed abnormal, and thus, shameful. Legitimizing physical illnesses and stigmatizing mental ones is a facet of suicide coverage that needs to change.

For example, a news story about rising obesity rates may be followed by a story on the need for a more comprehensive public health-care plan, and a lighter story about weight loss tips. Suicide can be covered in a similar way, perhaps by publishing related stories about the state of psychiatric health care in Canada, or a lifestyle piece on making mental health “check ups” a routine part of healthy living. 

Standardizing the media’s approach to suicide—a topic that has long been viewed as taboo—may very well be the first step in accepting a population whose reality has been notoriously underreported.

Lead image via Flickr user ashley rose
Posted on January 23, 2012

Last week The Globe and Mail gave the general public another reason to be wary of journalists.

In a front-page story, the Globe stated that there had been a reversal in a policy regarding same-sex couples who travelled to Canada to marry. But this was not exactly the case, as pointed out by Kevin Kindred in a  It turns out that there was never actually a reversal in the “tourist” marriages policy. Canada has a long-standing law stating that the government will only recognize a “tourist” marriage if it is valid in the place where the couple resides.

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The Globe and Mail didn’t seem to be aware of this fact, and published an article that not only caused some considerable controversy, but left the prime minister labelled a homophobe. And journalists wonder why trust in their profession is so low. As an Ipsos Reid polI released in early January reported, only 31 percent of the general public trusted journalists. While the profession did surpass lawyers in public trust, journalists were still considered less believable than chiropractors and financial advisors.

This same-sex mixup may be a perfect example of why this is the case. Let’s believe that this was a simple Globe and Mail error. As Kindred puts it, “law is hard.” When writing a potentially controversial article, should a journalist not stop and think “What are the implications of this piece?” If it seems potentially volatile—the Globe story drew over 2,000 online comments—there should be some extra care when it comes to verifying the facts. That should be a principle widely practised in journalism to begin with. We can understand the crunch of the 24-hour news cycle, and can appreciate that mistakes happen, but it is our job, as journalists, to be accountable to the public.

C’mon, people.  Let’s prove that we can be more trustworthy than plumbers. 

Lead image via Flickr user bee721. 

Posted on January 20, 2012

An article posted on The Guardian’s women’s blog recently highlighted an interesting British magazine trend. According to writer Anita Chaudhuri, more U.K. women's magazines are featuring women of colour on their covers, including InStyle (U.K.) and Psychologies. Chaudhuri wonders if this means magazines are becoming more diverse.

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While there has certainly been a shift in recent years, there is still a predominantly Caucasian trend.

While it's admirable that British magazines have been putting an ethnically diverse group of women on their covers over the last few months, it would be even better if this trend became the norm—not only in the U.K., but everywhere else. Rihanna graced the cover of American Vogue in April 2011, every cover since has featured a white woman.

The old excuses are wearing thin, after all. In the United States, the issues with the best sales featured white women (and Justin Bieber). But so did the covers that performed the worst. So newsstand sales aren't a strong indicator that ethnic covers would fare poorly. Canada, despite its boasts of diversity and multiculturalism, doesn’t feature much colour on its magazines either. In a society that is supposed to be so culturally inclusive, our media are not exactly doing the best job. So maybe what’s been happening in the U.K. recently is the beginning of something significant. Maybe in a few years, everyone can stop talking about what colour the person on her magazine is and go back to talking about how skinny they are instead.

Posted on January 20, 2012

“There’s a part of this book, The True Story of the Three Little Pigs, where there’s this wolf, who’s a smart aleck from Brooklyn. The wolf says, ‘There’s a little bit of a misunderstanding. I was going next door to get a cup of sugar 'cause I was making a birthday cake for my granny, and my neighbour, who’s a piggy, built his house out of straw and it made me sneeze a tremendous sneeze, and the house fell down, and the piggy died. Being a good citizen, I’m not gonna leave this pig meat out in the hot sun. Can you say trichinosis? So I ate it.’” 

Dean Miller, news reporter and editor, isin a distinct Brooklyn accentimpersonating the Big Bad Wolf of the not-so-familiar version of the "Three Little Pigs" fairytale, written by Jon Scieszka. Miller, director of the Center for News Literacy  housed at New York’s Stony Brook University, spoke to me about the program that teaches news literacy skills designed to encourage critical consumption of news. He uses this story in the undergraduate class he teaches, saying that when he reads it, he can see the lights go on for his students. “And the facts are terrific,” Miller says. “I ask them, ‘How big is a wolf, the Big Bad Wolf?’ Well, an average North American wolf is about 75 pounds. And a pig? Well, they’re friggin’ enormous. They’re like 500 pounds. And they’re really nasty and territorial. They’re much more dangerous than a wolf.” The moral of the story: “You’ve been taught your whole life that wolves are big and bad, but you never got the other side of the story. In fact, it could be a lot more complicated.”

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The Center for News Literacy is the first of its kind, and although its model (or a variant of it) has been implemented in roughly 20 post secondary institutions
as well as in elementary and high schools across the United States and in countries including Australia, Turkey, and Puerto Ricoit has yet to make its way here, a fact that I, as a Canadian journalism student, find unfortunate. When I was in high school, the closest we got to news literacy was media studies, which focused more on sexism in music videos than anything news related.

Jordan Press, who holds a journalism degree and a master's in education, wrote his thesis on what journalists and educators believe should be part of a news literacy curriculum. His aim, he says, is to be the bridge that the three groups—journalists, academics, and educators—can all walk across to help develop a news literacy curriculum. But there’s been much debate about intentions, Press says, noting that academic journals often argue that journalists only want to glorify their profession.

Press adapted the Stony Brook news literacy model to meet a Canadian context. He pitched it at a few colleges, but didn’t get far. Maybe he didn’t pursue it enough, he says, adding that if he gets the opportunity, he’ll keep pushing it. Still, he thinks the idea of news literacy in the Canadian classroom is catching on. “But it’s just not as explicit as it is in the States, or maybe as it should be here.” Press makes clear his bias as a journalist, but says that if the American experience is any indication, it would be an excellent step.

I couldn’t agree more.

Lead image by Wasim Ahmad, Stony Brook University School of Journalism.
Posted on January 19, 2012

"That Was Then, This Is Now" explores the beginnings of some of Canada's favourite writers and journalists

Kate Carraway always thought she was going to be a lawyer. “It seemed to be the thing that made sense,” she says. “I was captain of the debate team and I always got good grades in English and history. It was in my head to be a lawyer all the way through high school and through university.” Subconsciously, though, Carraway didn’t want to be in law or politics because they didn’t fit the more “free form” way she wanted to live her life.

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Carraway was at Toronto’s Horseshoe Tavern, listening to a band called the Wrens play, when she had an epiphany. “The guys in the band were all older, in their 40s. They all worked at Pfizer in New York and lived in New Jersey. They’re all dads or divorced or whatever. So I was watching the show and I was very high and I was thinking, 'Wow, imagine if these guys had never gone to work at Pfizer and had never become professionals, and if they had just had this band for the whole time instead. That would have been incredible.' And I thought, 'Wait. I don’t have to do this thing that I’m planning to do. Imagine if I was just a writer.' And I had never articulated it to myself or to anyone else before. I remember it very distinctly. I was standing in the Horseshoe watching the band play, and it was like immediately it all came together, and I understood for the first time, and very clearly, that I was going to be a writer instead of a lawyer.”

The first story Carraway ever pitched was published in NOW magazine—though she can’t remember what it was about. Later, she moved to California to do an internship at O.C. Weekly. “And that was it,” she says. “From then on, I’ve just done the same thing.”

Today, Kate writes columns for The GridViceNational Post, and Elle Canada.

Posted on January 18, 2012

Death. Destruction. Despair. These are all things that could deter someone from opening up a daily newspaper. It's news, but in a world where “if it bleeds it leads,” news can make the world seem downright depressing. The Huffington Post now has a solution. On January 12 it announced the creation of an entire section dedicated to “good news.”

In an online announcement, Arianna Huffington wrote, “[S]tories of real people and their countless acts of empathy and ingenuity are overshadowed not only by actual crises,” but often also by manufactured ones. The Good News section’s mission is to tell these stories and show “what is working.”

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The old adage is that money can’t buy happiness, but it sure does make for a strong seller. Just look at Gretchen Rubin, author of The Happiness Project, which has been on the New York Times’ Bestseller List for 44 weeks. People obviously want to feel good about life.

The Good News section is much like the last story in a newscast, where human-interest pieces are meant to leave you feeling just a little better about the world around you. But a whole section devoted to the “good” in the world isn’t a new idea. GOOD magazine, the Daily GoodOde magazineGreat News Network and CNN Heroes are among the sites that have already tapped into the idea—and The Huffington Post is partnering with them.

There's a market full of people cynical about news, after all, and Arianna's Good News section might just have what it takes to corner it. 

Lead image via The Aspen Institute. 

Posted on January 18, 2012

I recently read a really interesting piece about media ethics in the January/February 2012 of The Atlantic. The article, "Freed Press," is writer Graeme Wood's personal account of teaching said ethics to a group of about 50 young (under 30) Libyan journalists.

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Wood writes that about 100 independent magazines and newspapers are published in the Libyan city of Benghazi, which is a substantial number considering there were zero before the city’s liberation a year ago. Wood goes on to say that his students were all very eager to learn, which to me is an exciting thing. The fact that a country once ruled by Gaddafi and forbidden to practise real journalism is finally allowed to open its doors
and its minds—to the idea of freedom of the press, and is doing so willingly, breathes fresh life into the eastern media. Of course, that doesn’t mean there were no obstacles in Wood’s path:

"I preached a gospel of objectivity, freedom from bias, and independence—the canonical American journalistic virtues—and explained why journalists aren’t supposed to shade stories to protect the powerful, or lie, or break the law, or pay their sources, or be paid by them, or pretend to be someone they’re not. The students appreciated the theory but challenged me in practice. Nearly all said, for example, that they would decline to publish a story that made the leaders of the rebel government look bad, at least until the war was finished."

That, for me, was an eye-opener because it reminded me that not every country in the world lives life the way that we do in North America. The people of Libya are still struggling to free themselves of their past and are still trying to work out how to deal with their present. I think it’s great, though, that so many publications have popped up in Benghazi, and that North Americans are stepping in to guide them along. It shows an investment in ethical media practices and a belief that freedom of the press is a right, not a privilege. It’s okay that we’re not altogether there yet; after all, we’ve got to start somewhere.


Image via Zohra Bensemra, Reuters.
Posted on January 18, 2012

 

We've all done it; inserted a "smiley-face" at the end of a flirtatious text message or a "sad-face" emoticon after a friend has poured her heart out online because, let's face it, you weren't really paying attention and didn't know what else to type back. Modern day emoticons that many of people use on a day-to-day basis in online conversations are the distant cousins of "ASCII art," a more elaborate graphic design technique in which pictures are created using letters and characters on computers to make images and text-based visual art.

ASCII art was born in part because of the lack of graphic capability that printers once had, which posed a problem when one needed to create a diagram, chart, or just a funny image; so text was used in place of scanned photos or Microsoft Excel spreadsheets to render whatever image was needed. Some of the earliest known pieces of ASCII art, by Kenneth Knowlton, a computer-art pioneer, and Leon Harmon were created in 1966. The form grew in popularity in the late 1970s to early 1980s. It was not only used on Bulletin Board Systems, but was also favoured by some underground artists. ASCII continued to be used in the early days of the Internet, before graphics and images were possible. Check out a few samples of ASCII art by David Bader at the botto of this post, from a series called "Silly Cows" dating from 1981-1994 via Clasohm.

 

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However, this text-based art-form did not first appear via computers. As many of us often forget, there is a primitive typing device that was around about 100 years before the computer. Remember that thing with the horrible wi-fi connection and virtually zero gigabytes of memory that doesn't even have a delete button? It is called a typewriter, and it's where text art originated, before the days of scanners, photocopiers, jpegs, or gifs. Typewriters give artists an advantage that modern computers do not: artists can overstrike certain letters and characters to create a realistic shadow, and they can also rotate the paper to create type on different angles and vary the amount of space between letters.

 

Typewriter art likely was created shortly after the typewriter became fairly common in the 1870s, but what is thought to be the first surviving example is a beautiful picture of a butterfly created in 1898 by a woman named Flora Stacey, who is believed to have been a secretary. The butterfly itself is made of hyphens, brackets, periods, oblique strokes, o's and a single asterisk. More recently, Washington State-based artist Tyree Callahan created a conceptual "painting typewriter," which in theory has pads of oil paint that correspond to its coloured keys. Even though the it cannot actually produce paintings, Callahan's "Chromatic Typewriter" has been getting the art community talking. He wrote on his blog, "The reaction to the piece has been pretty special.  It seems to be making a lot of people happy and it has started some great discussions on the translation of art into words and words into art."

So, while typewriters may be considered by some to be obsolete, they are still an extraordinary medium for producing impressive art. Check out this proposal for a typewriter documentary that tells us about the history of the typewriter and why it isn't going anywhere any time soon. Producing art on these machines requires patience, concentration, and meticulous planning, all of which are virtues in today's high-speed world. Here are some striking pieces of typewriter art that have cheered me up after spending my entire day mindlessly hashing out dozens of e-mails, and have reminded me of the beauty that is often forgotten in everyday things.

 

 

         (__)                     (__)                     (__)
         (oo)                ____ (oo)                _---_(oo)
  /-------\/               /-    --\/               /-     -\/
 / |     ||               / |     ||               /|      ||
*  ||----||              *  ||___-||              *  ||___-||
  ^^    ^^                 ^^    ^^                 ^^    ^^
Freshman Cow at          Freshman Cow             Freshman Cow
start of school     After the "Freshman 15"    After the "Freshman 20"

 

 

By David Bader (1991)



Posted on January 17, 2012

Jim Wilkes, or "Newsboy," as he is called at the Toronto Star, said farewell to his colleagues on January 13 after more than 36 years as a photographer and reporter for the publication. 

To commemorate his long career, the Star said goodbye in both a print article and a blog post, which featured some of Wilkes's most memorable works as a photographer. As I scrolled through the selection of photos, Wilkes's talent as a photographer was not lost on me. Around this time last year, I began my first photojournalism course taught by Maclean's former chief photographer, Peter Bregg

17012011_RRJ_newsboy 
During our first class, Bregg clicked through a few of his photos, stopping on one and turning to pose a question to the class. “How many photographers does it take to make a good photo?” he asked, pointing to the projected image. 

Understanding that the answer was likely not “one,” the class waited in silence.

“Ten,” he said. “One to take the picture, and nine to say that they could have done that.”

This was the first lesson, and likely one of the most memorable that I have learned about the art of photography. With point-and-shoot cameras, digital SLRs and even smartphones with applications that artfully render photos in seconds (hello, iPhone Instagram users), it's easy to assume that amateurs can recreate the work of experienced photographers. The breadth of skill of these photographers is often underappreciated. 

But even if an amateur assumes he or she could capture a photo in a style similar to Wilkes’s there is no going to back to capture some of the moments in time his photos depict. A black-and-white portrait of former Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau campaigning in 1975 or an image of a worker celebrating the installation of the SkyDome’s first seat in 1988 are snapshots of life that belong to the film—and personal stories—of the Newsboy himself.  

You can find a gallery of Wilkes' work on the Toronto Star's website.

 

Posted on January 17, 2012

It doesn't look like it's getting any easier to be a journalist.

The Halifax Media Group, which bought a chain of small and medium-sized American newspapers from the New York Times Company for $143 million, has been getting national attention for a string of corporate decisions. The first was on January 9, when it was reported that the company would be requiring new hires to sign a rigid non-compete agreement. Its conditions included that the journalist is barred from working for any media enterprise in any city where Halifax Media has a presence...for two years after leaving the company. Even if the employee is fired, she can't get any job in a market where Halifax Media operates.

Because, you know, who needs a job in the journalism industry? (Oh, all of you? Oh, okay, never mind.)

aadsadsadsads 
Turns out all the bad press didn't go unnoticed by the company: publisher Diane McFarlin later announced it was scrapping the stingy new agreement. The era of Halifax Media sounds like an uncomfortable one. Four days after the non-compete fiasco, Gawker reported that the company banned jeans in the newsroom. 

Consider it a throwback to a classier age. Back in my day, men used to wear three-piece suits and there wasn't any of this denim nonsense. Everyone wore a hat, and you'd take it off when a lady walked in the elevator with you. Maybe you'd offer her a cigarette, ask if she wanted to join you for a scotch in your office and suggest she be your receptionist.

Wait. That's Mad Men. Never mind.

Journalists are busy. Most of them don't have time for social lives, never mind ironing. To quote Gawker on the issue, "God forbid a company do anything that might make the miserable days spent in a cubicle under the fluorescent lights a wee bit more humanizing."

Halifax Media, this has not been your week.

Posted on January 16, 2012

For some of us, journalism is a calling that we realized from the moment we could string words into sentences. For others, this moment of realization—the light bulb going on in our heads—was somewhat delayed.

In a post that appeared in The Huffington Post’s High School section earlier this week, 17-year-old Jack Davis recalled the moment he first realized journalism was his calling in "My Accidental Love Affair-Turned-'Aha Moment' with Journalism." In the post, Davis writes that when he was younger he was unsure of what he wanted to do, and somehow he “stumbled across journalism.”

 

Natalie_blogpost 
While Davis continued to nurture his love of writing, he was not able to fully explain why his attraction to journalism was so strong. It was not until he had watched the documentary Page One: Inside the New York Times that Davis understood why journalism was something that called so strongly to him. 

 

The hour-and-a-half long documentary, released in mid-2011, takes an inside look at The New York Times and the people who run it. It is your typical “fly-on-the-wall” documentary, which shows the newspaper and its struggle to survive in an era when, everything ends up on the internet. As Davis writes, the documentary also “showed me that although journalism is in the messed up state that it seems, the people at the core of it are passionate to grind out news that they are known for, continue to keep the world informed and continue to do what they do best.”

Much like Davis, my own aha moment was not so instant, and it was not until I began following the 2006 Canadian federal election that I figured out how to incorporate my love of writing into my future. I remember flipping through the Toronto Star, The Globe and Mail, and the National Post to get a better understanding of what was going on in the election. I became obsessed with reading about the election in the paper that it hit me all at once. The light bulb went off: I wanted to be a journalist. I wanted people to read my articles and feel just as informed as I had. 

And so, just like The New York Times had triggered Davis’s “aha moment,” the Canadian newspapers had done the same for me. While I may be unsure of where journalism will take me, who knows? Maybe one day I’ll run into Davis at The New York Times.
Posted on January 13, 2012

Ladies' Home Journal is taking open journalism one step further: to the magazine world. The publication announced on January 10 that its content will soon be written almost entirely by readers.

Pros:
• Majority of the staff still keep their jobs, now working as fact-checks and helping develop the readers' stories.
• Readers will be paid professional rates for contributing articles. 
• Could help new or young journalists (such as those of us in j-school) get a foot in the door of the freelance world.
• Ladies' Home Journal might gain new readership. 

RRJ_blog17012011 
Cons:

• Further blurs the line between who is and is not a journalist. 
• Might not get enough content, or might get content that is not publishable.  
• Unless freelance journalists contribute articles as 'readers,' there probably will not be as many professional articles or access to exclusive sources. 
• Ladies' Home Journal could lose readership.  

Ideally, open journalism creates greater transparency, accuracy, and trust—OpenFile is a successful example. My concern, though, is that in an age where it is already difficult to decide who qualifies as a journalist, a move like this only makes that question more confusing. OpenFile is a specific concept—it was founded solely for the purpose of open journalism. But for Ladies' Home Journal to change this dramatically is a risky move. Though there are a few exceptions, so far the internet has been the great untamed wild of ‘journalism,’ where anyone from ages four to 99 can write a blog post about their day.

I do not like the idea. I am all for higher transparency—and I think it is great that readers can become more involved with the magazine—but having them write the majority of the content seems like a bad move. Maybe it’s the change-resistant part of me writing this, but journalism should be written by people who spend their days absorbed in the subject; by people who genuinely care about what is going down on paper and know how to craft a compelling story.

 

Posted on January 13, 2012

Happy New Year from the Ryerson Review of Journalism. We’ve started production for our Summer 2012 issue, and have big plans for the year ahead. Here are some upcoming events to add spice to your lukewarm winter.

RRJ February Fundraiser
Our kick off fundraiser is on February 2 at the Black Bull (298 Queen Street West). For just $10, you have a chance at giveaways, prizes, and a friendly bartender. The party starts at 8 p.m., but we’ll be pre-selling tickets from Monday to Friday, January 16 – February 1, in the Rogers Communications Centre on Ryerson campus. Buy a ticket from 10 a.m. – 4 p.m.and get a free cup of fair-trade coffee.

RRJ Summer 2012 Fundraiser 
Clothing and Treasure Sale

Aside from selling tickets, we’ll also be opening our second-hand table of beautiful things. Bring some pocket change to purchase a treasure that will last longer than any bake-sale item ever does. All proceeds will go to the RRJ. The items are still making their way to our desks, but so far we have some lovely vintage clothes and books. We're still seeking donations for our sale, so why not donate a book you’d like to share or a dress you never wear? Shoes, books, jewellery, and men's and women's clothing are all warmly welcomed. Start off the New Year by cleaning out your closet and sharing what you don’t use; you’ll free up space, and you'll help fund a great publication.

 For details or inquiries about any of these events, email us at ryersonreviewPR@gmail.com.

Posted on January 11, 2012
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