A discussion of the Toronto mayor’s coverage will be one of many stories in the upcoming edition of Media magazine, writes Ideas editor David McKie.

By David McKie, Ideas Editor

Just when you think the Rob Ford story cannot produce any more news, another development comes along that turns into headline material, the latest development being his apology to Toronto Star reporter Daniel Dale, which did little to stave off a libel suit.

It’s fair to say that the saga about Toronto’s crack-smoking mayor has become not only national, but international news. And for the most part, that news has created a negative impression of Canada’s largest city. This is one of the conclusions of a piece that Andrew Laing, president of Cormex Research, has written in the upcoming edition of Media magazine.

Laing writes: “The evidence is anecdotal, but it is possible that nothing in Canada outside of the Olympics has attracted this level of sustained, prominent, cross-platform international media attention, and that list includes SARS (Severe acute respiratory syndrome), TIFF (Toronto International Film Festival), the G20 and other acronym-fetching events.”

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In addition to the news value, the Rob Ford story also contains many lessons for journalists: the courage to doggedly pursue a story, the determination to take on elected officials in the face of denials and insults and the willingness to fight battles in court.

The story broke wide open when journalists finally got access to court documents that forced the disgraced mayor to come clean. In his interview with Media magazine, media lawyer Peter Jacbosen explains the battle for the court documents, the unwillingness of the Ontario Crown to lift the veil of secrecy and the willingness of the federal Crown to let some court records see the light of day. Jacobsen’s explanation is a twisted tale that contains an important lesson: behind every search warrant is a court document and an information to obtain document (ITO) that is worth demanding. “There is a wealth of information because the police have to make full and frank disclosures,” Jacobsen said.

Continuing on the theme of learning lessons, many of our columnists will weigh in with their advice for the best ways to tell stories using data, and the use of mapping techniques to make information come alive online.


Chad Skelton will explain how he used crowd sourcing to develop his data-journalism course at Kwantlen Polytechnic University, and Stuart Thompson will share some of his thoughts about the challenges of developing the data journalism course he’ll be teaching at Ryerson University’s journalism school. Both courses begin in January.

We will also feature the work of a new columnist Mark Burgess, editor of the Ottawa-based Lobby Monitor. Burgess will use his inaugural column to write about ProPublica’s outstanding work on acetaminophen, one of the nation’s most popular pain relievers. It was a multimedia effort that represents an example of an emerging template for investigative journalism. In his explanation of how ProPublica operates, Burgess writes: “At the beginning of the year, ProPublica reporters pitch a number of stories to their editors who select which ones to pursue. The main criteria are what’s already been reported and whether there’s an accountability issue that can be solved.”

With more media outlets facing cuts, longer-form investigative journalism is a potential casualty. However, the ProPublica model of collaborative storytelling could be an interesting model for journalism schools, as an increasing number of them delve into data journalism, which has the potential for obtaining stories that go beyond the daily news cycle.

As students at schools such as Carleton University, Algonquin College, The University of King’s College, Ryerson University and Kwantlen Polytechnic University embrace the teaching of data journalism, students in those courses can begin to find homes for their work. That’s the hope anyway.  

I’ve already seen examples of that in my classes, stories about federal stimulus spending and the First World War.

As the data journalism courses become more firmly established, partnerships could lead to the kind of collaborations that are more common place in the United States. Could this be where journalism is heading? Perhaps.

So please stay tuned for the next edition of Media magazine, which will be published by 2014. 

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