End-of-summer roundup: The biggest j-stories you might have missed
Summer brings with it a whole slew of distractions, but now that September is just around the corner, it’s time to catch up on the things you may have missed. Belinda Alzner rounds up some of the biggest stories about the Canadian journalism industry that were talked about on J-Source this summer.
Paywalls, paywalls, paywalls
If you read Canadian journalism online, chances are you will be asked to pay for it soon, if you haven’t been already. Postmedia made waves when it announced its plan to implement paywalls on a number of its newspapers’ websites this summer, and the new paywalls went into effect last week. Users are now asked to pay to read The Ottawa Citizen, the Vancouver Sun, the Vancouver Province, and, for international users, The National Post.
In addition, The Globe and Mail has announced it will be putting its own paywall in place sometime this fall. Both Postmedia and The Globe paywalls will be metered, meaning users will get a set amount of articles for free before they’re asked to pay. (Think: The New York Times' model.)
Of course, if you’re a reader of Postmedia’s The Montreal Gazette, Glacier Media’s Times-Colonist in Victoria, or Torstar’s The Hamilton Spectator, paywalls are nothing new – these papers have been asking readers to pay since last year.
Changes at Postmedia
It’s been a few months full of changes for Postmedia’s newspapers as the company tries to pay down its debt and reinvent itself. The newspaper chain shed jobs across the country, perhaps most notably in shutting down its Postmedia News division and signing up with Canadian Press again. It suspended its Sunday editions for a number of newspapers, and created a new facility in Hamilton that will be the home of centralized production, layout and even editorial decisions.
These moves are all part of a three-year plan that CEO Paul Godfrey says will reduce operating costs by 15 to 20 per cent. “I think going forward we’ll be a smaller revenue company but a much smaller expense company, and as a result, a more profitable company,” Godfrey told investors when announcing its third-quarter results.
How the media got it wrong in Alberta
The Alberta election campaign was dominated with headlines about a “surging” Wildrose party, and the PC party that was the choice of young voters who “never thought [they’d] vote PC” (as if that was a ringing endorsement). So when the polls closed and it was realized that voters had chosen the PCs to form a majority government, it came as a shock. How was a PC majority a narrative largely ignored by the media in the weeks leading up to the election? Zoey Duncan explained that journos were among those swept along by so-called opinion polls that had been predicting a Wildrose victory, and that the mainstream media had failed in their role to provide voters with context or anything deeper than the big picture, largely leaving it up to bloggers and tweeters to fill the void.
Violence against journalists in Montreal
The student protests that became part of the nightly routine in Montreal this spring were covered diligently by journalists, though not without any compromise of their own safety. Anne Caroline Desplanques of ProjetJ shed light on the violence and intimidation that journalists faced from not only the protesters, but the police as well. And Justin Ling, who covered the protests for OpenFile Montreal, wrote this first-person account of his arrest and subsequent release because of Twitter.
One media outlet that took a unique approach to its coverage of the protests was CUTV – Concordia University’s television network. Its openly pro-student editorial stance defied the traditional emphasis on objectivity, and on top of reportedly thousands of dollars worth of equipment having been destroyed, multiple CUTV reporters were among the journalists injured during their coverage of the protests.
Rob Ford vs. Toronto Star – but this time, it’s personal
At around 7:30 p.m. on May 3, Toronto Star reporter Daniel Dale found himself standing face-to-face with Toronto Mayor Rob Ford just outside of the Mayor’s backyard. Dale had been investigating a parcel of public land the mayor had expressed interest in purchasing, and Ford, claiming he thought the City Hall reporter had been spying on his family, approached Dale in a huff, cornering him. Dale yelled for help, and asked the mayor, who Dale says had a fist raised beside his head, not to hit him. Dale eventually ended up dropping his BlackBerry and recorder at the mayor’s feet and running away.
As a result of this confrontation, Ford threatened a media blackout unless Dale was removed from the City Hall beat. The Star, the newspaper that Ford has boycotted since his inauguration at mayor, did not comply with these demands. J-Source ethics editor Romayne Smith Fullerton called for journalists to stand together for access to information.
Ford intitally kept good on his promise, ignoring media at his weekly weigh-in following the incident. And in perhaps the most ironic part of the whole story, Mayor Ford said a few words at an event marking the beginning of World Press Freedom Week, and then proceeded to take a total of zero questions from reporters.
Twitter commentary leads to reporter’s suspension
While covering the protests, Montreal Gazette reporter Anne Sutherland tweeted – and then deleted – a number of photos of a nearly-nude protest, complete with commentary from her regarding back hair and belly fat. She was suspended three days for her lapse in social media judgment, and the instance led to a conversation (on the very platform that got her in hot water in the first place) about the role of editorial oversight of reporters’ tweets. Some argued it seemed like a natural thing that editors would want to do as a commitment to their news organizations’ social media efforts, while others argued that reporters had to be trusted enough to tweet from the field on their own; that editors had enough to worry about already.
Jan Wong’s memoir
Jan Wong was a high-profile reporter and columnist for The Globe and Mail up until “L’affaire Wong” in 2006. In May, she self-published Out of the Blue, a book that documents the personal and professional fallout from her infamous column on the Dawson College shootings. Belinda Alzner talked to her about the process behind the column in question, the behind-the-scenes conversations that took place, and about her new career as a journalism instructor in New Brunswick.
Peter Rehak reviewed Wong’s memoir for J-Source, and goes into more detail about how she self-published it after Doubleday walked away from it in the final stages of editing. He calls it an “important book” that “stands out for Wong’s graphic description of depression and the addictive powers of journalism.”
Anna Maria Tremonti: ‘Take your journalism back’
Each year, The Canadian Journalism Foundation honours a small and large media organization with its Excellence in Journalism Award at its gala. This year, CBC’s The Current was the big winner, taking home the Award in the large media category. Host Anna Maria Tremonti gave a rousing acceptance speech, in which she urged the room to “take your journalism back.”
We transcribed her acceptance speech in full on J-Source. Here’s a sample:
No journalism school grad gets out of school and says, “I want to cover the vapid and superficial.” Their bosses make them do that – their bosses with experience. No one can make you stand in front of a camera and say nothing about nothing. No one can make you write a column about just yourself. No one can make you report a story about nothing – only you can do that.
So next time a boss tells you – and this is a message to all the young journalists out there, and not-so-young journalists – to do a story you don’t want to do, come up with three others you do, and fight for it.
Take your journalism back.
CBSC rules against Ezra Levant
The Canadian Broadcast Standards Council ruled this summer that a segment in which Sun News Network host Ezra Levant made a pointed statement to a Chiquita Banana executive had violated its code, and required Levant to apologize on his show. In December last year, Levant gave his point of view on Chiquita Brand International’s decision to boycott oil from Alberta’s oil sands. The 10-minute editorial against the company’s ethical record and its vice president Manuel Rodriguez concluded with Levant saying: “Hey you…yeah you, Manuel Rodriguez. Chinga tu madre.” Or, to translate to English: “Go fuck your mother.”
Newfoundland’s Access to Information amendment
After a filibuster debate, Newfoundland’s legislature passed Bill 29 to amend the provincial Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act to the dismay of a couple of Canada’s most prominent Access experts. Fred Vallance-Jones, a journalism professor at the University of King’s College in Halifax who carried out an audit of Freedom of Information legislation last fall for Newspapers Canada, called it “the biggest step backward in access in Canada in recent memory.”
The amended legislation gives the government a number of new ways to keep information secret by allowing government officials to ignore requests that they deem to be “frivolous,” “trivial,” or “systemic.” Cabinet minister briefing notes are also exempt.
A spokesperson for Justice Minister Felix Collins said that the amendments bring Newfoundland’s ATI laws in line with Canada’s provincial and federal governments. (Canada’s federal ATI legislation was ranked 40th out of 89 countries last year by the Halifax-based Centre for Law and Democracy.)
First, it was what was being called “self-plagiarism.” Then, the outright fabrication of quotes.
Jonah Lehrer’s reputation as a rising-star young journalist, coupled with other experts blaming the current journalistic environment, may have helped serve as a defense when it was discovered he had re-purposed his own work across numerous publications in June, but the defense wouldn’t last long. Lehrer apologized and his publication, the notoriously stringent fact-checking The New Yorker, said it would never happen again.
Then came the Bob Dylan quotes. (Or, “quotes,” to be more accurate.) It was revealed that Lehrer fabricated quotes by Dylan in his best-selling book, “Imagine: How Creativity Works.” Lehrer resigned, the print copies of his book were recalled, and Lehrer’s editor at The New Yorker called it “a terrifically sad situation,” in a New York Times blog, adding that “in the end, what is most important is the integrity of what we publish and what we stand for.” Lehrer apologized and said “the lies are over now.”
For J-Source, Jeff Fraser looked into the ethics and business of freelancing in a new journalistic environment.
CAJ Report: What is Journalism?
The Canadian Association of Journalists Ethics Committee released its latest report this summer. The report comes in the form of a question and asks: What is journalism? The report’s authors came up with three criteria for defining journalism: Purpose (combining evidence-based research and verification with the creative act of storytelling); Creation (All journalistic work -- whether words, photography or graphics -- contains an element of original production); and Methods (clear evidence of a self-conscious discipline calculated to provide an accurate and fair description of facts, opinion and debate at play within a situation).
Report author Patrick Brethour joined J-Source for a live chat, where we discussed the report’s findings and readers were able to ask questions and contribute to the conversation.
Paula Todd finds Karla Homolka in Guadaloupe
Paula Todd, a Canadian freelance journalist who has worked for CTV, TVO and the Toronto Star, spent her summer talking about how she tracked down a serial killer. As Todd uncovered, Karla Homolka, the serial killer who spent just 12 years in prison for her role in the sexual assault and murder of three teenage girls in, is living in Guadaloupe — with three children of her own.
The revelation was published in a short e-book, Finding Karla: How I Tracked Down an Elusive Serial Child Killer and Discovered a Mother of Three.
What might be even more surprising is that Todd’s $2.99 ebook has been far more lucrative than had she published it in a magazine. The Toronto Star reports that Todd has sold as many as 70,000 copies of the ebook, or about $200,000 in gross sales revenue.
Federal Court of Canada Okays linking to copyrighted material
Over the summer, the Federal Court of Canada dismissed two cases dealing with the posting, linking and tweeting of copyrighted material, sending what Michael Geist calls a “strong signal” that such actions fall within the law.
Free Dominion, a Canadian-based political news website, had posted a three paragraph excerpt of a National Post column by Jonathan Kay. The Post hit Free Dominion with a lawsuit, claiming this infringed on its copyright. There were a number of reasons behind this particular ruling, which Geist has summed up here.
Canadian mag uses alternative means to get start-up funds
Ballast wants to be the Canadian Gawker, but they need the start-up funds to do it. So Jonathan Hall and Paul Hiebert turned to Kickstarter, the online alternative fundraising website for a hand. They posted their project pitch there and allowed users to donate as much or as little as they’d like in exchange for any number of goods based on their donation level.
In total, 95 people pledged to Ballast, allowing the start-up mag to hit its goal of $25,000 raised on Aug. 1.
What does Ballast hope to be when it launches? According to its Kickstarter page: “A Canadian-centric website where thoughtful people gather to discuss the day’s activities.”