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Posts By Ivor Shapiro

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A time to embrace uncertainty
2 years ago

A time to embrace uncertainty

Ivor Shapiro’s closing remarks at the Journalism Transformations colloquium at Ryerson University on April 28, 2016.

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CBC’s fifth estate wins Michener for Ashley Smith reporting

By  •  News

CBC’s the fifth estate has won the 2010 Michener Award “for its reporting on the incarceration and death of Ashley Smith, a seriously troubled teenager who spent the last four years of her life behind bars for a minor offence.”

Citations of Merit went to the Calgary Herald; The Eastern Door; The Hamilton Spectator; la Société Radio-Canada; and the Vancouver Sun.

Toronto freelance writer Jane Armstrong received the 2011 Michener-Deacon Fellowship to “examine the impact of Canada’s aid programs in Afghanistan.”
Continue Reading CBC’s fifth estate wins Michener for Ashley Smith reporting

CAJ panel proposes ethics guidelines for digital age

By  •  Ethics

The 2002-vintage ethics code of the Canadian Association of Journalists
is certainly due for a revision—for one thing, it makes no mention of the
Internet. Now, a panel of the association’s ethics committee has produced a
draft revision for public comment. Panel chair Shauna Snow-Capparelli explains.

Continue Reading CAJ panel proposes ethics guidelines for digital age

A Guardian audit, an “ethics examiner”, a slugger’s coverage and other rewards of an hour with a journal.

By  •  Ethics

Sometimes I wonder why I still subscribe to
academic journals in print, but tonight is not such a time. True, sooner or
later, every journal’s content will be available in library databases or in
some cases even on the Web. And some do reach my shelves after months of neglect and a hurried ToC glance. But there is something tangibly satisfying about ripping open an envelope, removing an unassuming little book, and kicking back on a sofa after
work to have unanticipated thoughts provoked.

Today’s arrival was the Journal of Mass Media
Ethics
, a.k.a JMME, volume 26, number 1, a “special issue on media accountability.” (Actually,
this is part 2 of a twin of special issues on the topic, the first having appeared late last year, leading with a paper on “How The Daily
Show with Jon Stewart Holds Traditional Broadcast News Accountable”.) You
may be able to see full contents through library access to its publisher’s
Informaworld service; otherwise, only abstracts are online for free.

In print, though, my
bedtime reading surprise included a description and assessment of “social
audits
” conducted by The Guardian since 2003 to see
if the paper is living up to its founding ideals. And an ethical examination of anonymous comments posted to online news stories (one suggestion: tailor the terms of invitations
to comment to individual stories, rather than adopting a one-size-fits-all policy). And a proposal of a new model of community-based “ethics examiners” working
for independently funded media councils, instead of the endangered species of “insider”
ombuds paid by news organizations themselves.

And then came the “Cases and Commentaries” section, a regular feature
of the journal, this one providing a case study of the challenges facing reporters
assigned to cover the brilliant, irascible and probably artificially enhanced home-run
record-breaker Barry Bonds. The study was followed by reflections by three Bay Area sports reporters who had to figure out how to deal with Bonds fairly.

In a time of my life that sadly involves far more
rushing than reading, my hour on the sofa with JMME was a welcome respite tonight.

(J-Source insider note: the issue includes a stunningly laudatory review by senior-statesperson U.S. media ethicist Clifford
Christians of J-Source columnist Stephen J.A. Ward’s 2010 book, Global
Journalism Ethics
, in which the reviewer places the book “in the same
class as Walter Lippman’s (1922) Public Opinion” and other formative
works of the past century. JMME insider note: Ward is an associate editor of JMME and Christians is
a member of its editorial advisory board. Canadian insider note: for a rather
more reserved judgment of Ward’s work, see Paul Knox’s review in the Literary
Review of Canada.)

Continue Reading A Guardian audit, an “ethics examiner”, a slugger’s coverage and other rewards of an hour with a journal.

It’s not just Egypt: Star covers zone of entire Middle East

Instead of concentrating its reporting force in Egypt to replicate saturation coverage already available everywhere, the Toronto Star has nine journalists covering “the Arab Awakening” from Morocco, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, U.A.E., Yemen, Lebabon, Kuwait, Tunisia, and, of course, Egypt. The result is a riveting and varied text-and-photos portrait of a region in flux, including a series of feature stories from each country that has so far included despatches from Carole Murphy in Riyadh and Joanna Smith in Amman
Continue Reading It’s not just Egypt: Star covers zone of entire Middle East

Reporter sponsored Haiti kids because “I am a human being first.”

By  •  Ethics

Readers of the Toronto Star, inspired by the example of reporter Catherine Porter in sponsoring the education of three-year-old Lovely Avelus and of her cousin and friend, pitched in to send other Haitian students to school.

The story is one of several told in “Lovely’s Haiti,” a Star series and multimedia project launched October 17.

As Porter acknowledges, she was treading in new territory when she put aside her detachment to help kids go to school after January’s earthquake:    

…Lovely had survived hell to live in misery, I thought, as she grabbed my pen and drew squiggles on my notepad. “Comme ca,” she said. “Like that.” Right then, I decided to help.

In the end, my husband and I agreed to a sponsor not just Lovely, but Sofone and her 4-year-old next-door playmate, Angelica. That way we would prevent resentment. We didn’t want to create more problems than we fixed.

We would cover their school costs for two years, long enough to get them back on their feet, we thought. And we would give Lovely’s mother $100 a month for six months to restart her business.


In total, we would spend around $1,650 to help them. For us, that was a little more than one month’s mortgage payment. For them, it was more than their annual income.


I understood the arrangement was unorthodox. As a journalist, I am supposed to remain detached. My role is to be an impartial observer and documenter.

But having witnessed a mountain of tragedies, I couldn’t stand by numbly any more. Here was one small problem I could easily fix. Where my profession ruled I couldn’t, my humanity demanded I must. I am a human being first, a journalist second. I had my conscience to live with. Plus, after documenting all that destruction, I needed some hope as much as they did.

So, on April 27, Rosemene dressed Lovely in her newly tailored red tartan dress — the uniform for a private primary school I enrolled her in nearby — and took her to school for the first time. It was her third birthday.

The story might have ended there. Except, once back in Toronto I wrote a column about my decision. And the floodgates opened.

Minutes after the story went up on the Star’s website, emails started filling my inbox. More than 100 that first day. Readers wanted to send me money for Lovely’s education. They requested I enroll other children in school for them.

What had I gotten myself into? It was one thing for me to directly help a Haitian family; quite another to broker the assistance for dozens of families. I am still a journalist, not a charity worker. On the other hand, how could I refuse to help, knowing how many other Lovelys there were in Haiti?

I directed readers to charities I had seen working on the ground in Port-au-Prince. I couldn’t give them a tax receipt, I warned.

They would not be dissuaded….

Continue Reading Reporter sponsored Haiti kids because “I am a human being first.”

Truth hurts? Tough. Report it, says Toronto Star’s public editor

By  •  Ethics

The Toronto Star’s public editor, Kathy English, has rapped her paper’s decision to omit a reference to the last baby born at an iconic hospital. The baby died shortly after birth, and the writer of a Page 1 feature about the baby’s closed obstetrics unit chose to gloss over that fact in order to spare the parents pain.

As it turned out, the decision drew objections from the dead baby’s parents.

The reporter was, as English says, only trying to minimize harm. Utilitarian thinking of this kind is common for journalists, and, many say, necessary. But the effort to minimize harm can itself do more harm than good.
Continue Reading Truth hurts? Tough. Report it, says Toronto Star’s public editor

Sneak preview of the redesigned Globe and Mail

By  •  News

Can’t wait until October 1st to see what the new Globe will look like? Here’s a preview.    
Continue Reading Sneak preview of the redesigned Globe and Mail

A hot and sweaty, down and dirty approach to political column writing

Proving political comment need not be dry, the often hilarious Heather Mallick, in the Toronto Star, imagines how Toronto will feel about “waking up” with a suddenly, incredibly, apparently landslide-bound wild-card wild-man mayoral candidate in office:

“…Voting for Ford is like sleeping with someone to get revenge on your spouse. It seems like a good idea at closing time, which is what an election is. Last call, and you neck down your last shot of good cold vodka. ‘Sure, whatever,’ is what you say to everything said to you. ‘I hate streetcars too!’ And you leave the lounge of the Empire Hotel on the arm of some big guy.

“It is Oct. 26, the day after the election, and you wake in a hard, unfamiliar bed. Your eyeballs are congealed chip fat and your contact lenses have gone crispy. Your liver is en route somewhere. You appear to be missing a tooth. And there’s something in bed next to you. It is the sweaty, beer-smelling oik from the bar last night.

“Of course, you’ll say what you always say, ‘As God is my witness, I will never ever do this again.’

“You won’t have to, Toronto. He’s there for four years….”

(“Mallick: Waking up with Mayor Rob Ford,” Toronto Star, September 20, 2010)

(Apologies to the rest of the world for being Toronto-centric.)

Continue Reading A hot and sweaty, down and dirty approach to political column writing

Right to protect sources is part of free expression: top European court

By  •  Law

The Dutch government is moving to reinforce the right of journalists to protect sources
after a major ruling by the European Community’s top human-rights court. 

The Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg ruled that a Dutch law allowing a prosecutor to order journalists to divulge sources was in violation of Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights, which protects the right to free expression.

The test case concerned an order demanding that a Dutch magazine, Autoweek, hand over pictures of an illegal car race. The magazine’s editor was arrested after refusing to comply.

The Strasbourg court, ruling against the Dutch government, awarded 35,000 ($47,000 Cdn) to the magazine’s then-publishers, Sanoma Uitgevers B.V.  

In response, the Dutch justice ministry said it has prepared legislation that
will expressly allow journalists to protect sources, the BBC reports.

Continue Reading Right to protect sources is part of free expression: top European court