Commentary by: John Ferri in Toronto
The crisis in local journalism is well documented, most extensively in a report last January by the Public Policy Forum, and by others who have painted in detail the corrosive effects of cutbacks to local newsrooms and the shuttering of an entire daily newspaper in a mid-sized Ontario city.
It’s evident in these reports that there’s a real thirst for local perspectives – if not necessarily for supporting the business models that have traditionally delivered them. It’s also clear that there is no single solution to the loss of local journalism in Ontario.
But I do want to offer a new TVO editorial initiative as a kind of case study. It’s called Ontario Hubs and it brings a current affairs perspective to parts of the province that are increasingly under-served. Its intent is to provide news analysis and context that is relevant to both local audiences and to the wider public.
Ontario Hubs were made possible by a major gift from civic-minded philanthropists: the Barry and Laurie Green Family Charitable Trust and Goldie Feldman. This donation is allowing us to hire seven journalists and open regional offices outside Toronto.
For TVO, it’s an opportunity that speaks to our mandate to reflect and connect Ontarians and that is potentially a game-changer. It substantially increases the coverage of Ontario issues, ideas and events on tvo.org and on our flagship current affairs program, The Agenda with Steve Paikin.
Our initial plan calls for four regional hub offices. The first two officially launch on September 6 – one covering the region of Northwestern Ontario, based in Thunder Bay; and a second hub for Southwestern Ontario, based in London. The two additional hubs will be announced later this fall.
Each will be staffed by a full time TVO journalist, whose job it will be to identify issues and ideas of importance to the communities in their regions and report on how those matter locally, regionally and to the entire province.
The Hubs journalists will also help create networks of freelancers and contributors in their respective regions. In addition, we will have a full-time on-air journalist who will produce weekly feature reports for The Agenda with Steve Paikin. These won’t be in the form of a traditional 90-second news report but longer, more in-depth and, often, meant to set the table for a panel discussion on The Agenda.
With this new team of journalists and contributors we will produce multi-platform features – online and on broadcast – that will dive deep into big issues.
Earlier this year, TVO hired Jon Thompson for our Northwestern Ontario hub. Jon is an award-winning journalist and author with deep roots in the northwest. Since joining us, he’s filed a number of stories including a substantive feature examining how accusations of racism against Indigenous residents have divided Thunder Bay. It’s apparent that this story was not based on a few days visit by an outside media organization. Nor was it the incremental, day-to-day coverage local news outlets – increasingly strapped for resources – might provide.
The story is a fine example of the editorial stance TVO is taking with this project. It occupied the journalistic sweet-spot we aspire to: step-back and analytical but informed by being firmly planted on the ground, and appealing to both local and wider audiences.
The story did very well. It was among the most-read on our site in July, with more than a third of the traffic from Thunder Bay. And it helped define the public conversation on an issue with a national profile: on the strength of it, Jon was interviewed on CBC Radio’s As It Happens.
Ontario Hubs will not replace what’s being lost. TVO’s mandate is not daily news reporting. We won’t be covering regular meetings at Timmins City Hall or the school board in Owen Sound or the library services in Northumberland. My fervent hope is that a sustainable model for that kind of essential reporting, in whatever form it takes, will be found.
But what Ontario Hubs can offer is regional current affairs – in-depth, in context, and from multiple perspectives – that will help build a province whose citizens are better informed, responsive and engaged. It’s an addition to the journalistic eco-system at a time of decline. We hope it will serve as one model of a path to the future.
John Ferri is the VP of Documentaries and Current Affairs at TVO. This piece was republished under arrangement with J-Source.
by Chantal Braganza, Associate Editor for J-Source
In the early ’90s, Ryerson University professor emeritus John Miller conducted a study on the visual representation of minority groups in Canadian newspapers. He looked at which section photos appeared in, how many featured people of colour and compared the ratios with those of actual demographic groups living in the paper’s local population. “Of all the newspapers we looked at, only one newspaper was close to even,” he said. “That was the Montreal Gazette.”
When he called up the Gazette’s then-editor, Joan Fraser, to tell her about it, “she laughed and said, ‘Wow, you can measure that? We’ve been trying to do this for years.’”
“They had an editor in charge of having reporters assigned to keep an eye on certain communities,” said Miller, “and they were really happy with the results and getting interesting stories.”
Addressing diversity in Canadian journalism, both in coverage and in the newsrooms that produce it, is a complicated proposition — at least in part because statistics on the issue and the policies informed by them are often the exception and not the rule.
An Absence of Data
After that visual representation study, Miller conducted a demographic review of Canadian newspaper mastheads with the Canadian Daily Newspaper Association in 1994 and again in 2004 at Ryerson University. At the time, what the studies categorized as visible minorities accounted for 2.6 per cent of staff at newspapers in 1994 and 3.4 per cent 10 years later. In between, studies at Laval University in 2000 and a 2004 Canadian Task Force for Cultural Diversity on Television found that 97 per cent of Canadian journalists working in various media, and 87.7 per cent of news anchors were white, respectively.
But to date, a consistent survey similar to the scope of the American Society of News Editors’ annual newsroom census, running since 1978, does not exist in Canada. Or, in Miller’s words: “Nobody’s keeping count now.”
Sheila Giffen is executive director of Canadian Women in the Literary Arts, an organization that has been counting gender representation in literary arts journalism since 2013. CWILA’s annual count, which includes the gender of both reviewers and authors, not only highlights where representation gaps exist industry-wide but which newspapers and magazines are doing particularly well.
“Our job is to look at the gaps and start a conversation that organizations and publications can and should continue,” said Giffen. “You should also be looking at what other factors are going into the lack of diversity.”
“The numbers that speak to the diversity in an organization are important, but what’s happening below the surface is more important,” she added.
Look and Sound like the Audience
In the absence of numbers, senior managing director of CBC Toronto Susan Marjetti has built a newsroom diversity policy that’s often cited internationally as a successful example of how such a policy can work — and as a business case for having one in the first place.
After seeing a lack of coverage of urban Aboriginal communities in Winnipeg and Black Nova Scotians in Halifax, both places she’d worked at for the CBC, she noticed a similar pattern in Toronto after moving there in 2001 to work as a program manager for radio. “One of the first things I started talking about when I was shaking people’s hands was that we’re going to begin to better reflect this city and all its diversity. Our mission is to look and sound like this city in all its diversity,” Marjetti said.
“That became our vision,” she said. “Simple, memorable, easy for everyone to remember — as opposed to a 14-page strategy document.”
“At the time, we had the opportunity to hire two associate producers and two reporters,” Marjetti said. “I actively set out to recruit from diverse communities.”
Working with human resources to build a staff reflective of the audiences an outlet wants to reach, according to Marjetti, is critical to this approach. “It’s that team that would deliver on our mission and strategy,” she said. “Historically, people hire and surround themselves with people who think, and in some cases look, like themselves. We set out to hire people who think differently. And who may look differently. And who bring that richness and range in ideas.”
Two things resulted from these conscious hiring and coverage choices. First was an answer to a problem that Marjetti has repeatedly heard elsewhere is a barrier to building diverse teams: that qualified people of visible minorities simply don’t apply.
“What are you doing to find them? If you don’t bring people to the table, you’re going to get to that conclusion,” she said. “We worked so hard to put together an excellent and representative example for our hiring board. After that, people were coming to us.
The second was more noticeable to listeners. In a two-year span, Metro Morning went from the city’s sixth-rated show in the Toronto market to the top place — and has stayed in that spot since 2003. The show has also doubled its audience in the 35- to 49-year-old bracket.
“It was, I believe, a direct result of being more inclusive and more comprehensive in the stories, guests, columnists, contributors and even music we aired on the show.”
A Need to be Proactive
Last summer, management at the Toronto Star sat down with editorial managers to implement a diversity assessment of its own coverage. While not a formal policy in and of itself, managing editor Jane Davenport told J-Source the analysis was very much informed by what Marjetti had done at CBC Toronto. Public editor Kathy English wrote a column on the process last July. This spring, management, led by English, will review what’s been accomplished in the year since.
“We sat down with each of the managers in the newsroom and talked about the specific challenges in their file and how we could find ways to improve,” Davenport wrote in an email. “The goal was to make sure that everyone on the team felt the same sense of accountability for reflecting our community.”
“When we sat down and looked at our coverage overall, what truly stood out was the need to be proactive. A lot of news is driven by policy makers and industry leaders who are not as diverse as the people the news affects. And much of news is hard and negative — there is usually a problem,” she wrote. “Looking for diversity in either the solutions to those problems or in the smaller numbers of stories that are simply celebratory or human interest becomes key to not just reflecting back the faces of the community, but also the humanity of it.”
Re-published with permission from J-Source.ca.
-- Canada's economic development minister Navdeep Bains at a Public Policy Forum economic summit