Commentary by: George Abraham in Ottawa, ON
ENTREPRENEURIAL journalism sounds deceptively simple to execute. Combine journalism with business acumen … and voilà you have a winner.
Sadly, that is not the way it actually works in real life. It is a long, lonely slog, made even more difficult with the declining economics of Canadian media companies all around. One soon learns that the ability of reporters to break new ground and the ability of editors to present stories in a way that resonates with their audience derives from the financial strength of the parent media organization.
The M-word looms large: monetization. How do you keep the lights on and feed the hungry beast that is your burgeoning editorial budget?
We weren’t daft when a bunch of us embarked on this journey called New Canadian Media. The trend towards newsroom closures and downsizing was already written on the wall. The business model of legacy organizations itself was broken or breaking down before our very eyes. Sure, there were any number of naysayers who saw no point in trying to carve out a niche that portrayed the collective perspective of newcomers to Canada. We were warned that we would be neither “ethnic” nor “mainstream” – a mongrel among media – and that advertisers will make no room for hybrid models like ours because they have niche marketing budgets.
But, it was virgin space in May, 2014, when we launched our portal … and remains so even today.
Our first goal was to demonstrate that we could indeed produce high-quality journalism using largely immigrant talent. We’ve done that in spades. It’s our calling card.
Second, we needed to find “seed capital” that would help us convincingly demonstrate the strength of NCM’s original idea. We’ve done that as well. However, as we scaled up, we found the going difficult.
The intervening years since the launch of our site demonstrated not only the endurance of the original idea to represent “the immigrant perspective”, but also to tap into a rich vein of journalism talent that remains largely unexplored in Canada. But, in addition to pioneering a new form of journalism, we went against the grain in several important respects, all in an effort to buck the trend and improve the odds.
The original idea
NCM was founded on a rather simple premise: waves of immigrants continue to reshape this country in both visible and invisible ways. For visible signs, look no further than the sushi restaurant in your neighbourhood, turbans in the RCMP, Canada’s tilt towards the Asia-Pacific driven largely by immigration from that region of the world, ethnic nannies who raise babies for rich Canadians and the entrepreneurial energy that has made this country more prosperous.
While existing media capture the mega-trends, they do a rather poor job of portraying undercurrents and speaking to a new Canada-in-the-making. Our idea was to give voice to the opinion and points-of-view of newcomers, while enabling all Canadians to better appreciate this new perspective.
Jagdeesh Mann, executive editor of the Asian Pacific Post published in English and distributed in downtown Vancouver, has a readership that is as much white as Asian. “Canadians want to know what was happening in the Asian community and Asians want to participate,” Mr. Mann says, adding “food was usually the gateway.”
We, however, went about this in unconventional ways, ensuring that we continually broadened our horizons even while staying true to our core mission of delivering the immigrant perspective. We took great care to avoid creating what media experts call a new, isolationist “silo”, but rather to work with both existing ethnic and mainstream news organizations so our limited dollars did not end up duplicating journalism that was already out there.
There was no template to follow and hence we charted our own course.
Amid a climate of great public mistrust of ‘elites’ in general, and the media in particular, we set ourselves up as a non-profit, with paid members across Canada. When we discovered that our contributors could benefit from training and mentoring, we found the funds to launch a national professional development program. Last year, we broadened this grassroots undertaking to create an NCM Collective, inviting our contributors to band together in a countrywide effort to organize and lend even more heft to their inimitable immigrant voices.
At the same time, the organization has sustained itself on the backs of volunteer directors and pro bono time from members of our editorial board.
By the numbers
We’ve taken great pains to cross language and racial divides to address issues that confront every one of the 200 ethnic communities in Canada. Our range of stories and datelines from cities and towns across the country speak for themselves. It has contributed, dare I say, to giving many an immigrant a greater sense of belonging.
In perhaps our biggest break from tradition, we have consistently fostered a bottom-up journalism that privileges the findings of on-the-ground reporters over the preconceived notions of distant editors. We very rarely dictated a story idea, relying on our formidable network to serve as listening posts in their respective communities. Retaining a reporter’s voice is very important to us. We’ve tried our best not to shoehorn a reporter’s findings into a pre-cooked, nifty headline, or come up with an elegant turn of phrase that may not do full justice to the original sentiment.
Trust me, this has made the editing process a lot more laborious, but it has been surely worth it: it has led to unfiltered, authentic voices from communities across this fabulous country. Copy editors have gone apoplectic at times, but this approach has allowed immigrant journalists to portray the everyday experiences, joys and sorrows of new Canadians, signifying perhaps NCM’s biggest accomplishment to date.
All of this pioneering work has been sustained largely through project-based public funding (roughly $275,000 so far), enabling NCM to demonstrate the calibre and depth of its journalism and showcase the work of a growing roster of new reporters in every province.
Numbers rarely tell the whole story, but here are a few to illustrate our growth and current profile:
Our board of directors believes we are market-ready, and primed to emerge as a media platform in our own right. Towards this end, the board is re-tooling the NCM organization, rethinking our financial and business model, while we revamp our web platform to update several of its key attributes – to ensure that we continue to present the immigrant perspective in all its colour and vibrancy.
We are surely not alone in imagining a different media scene – one that truly reflects Canada in the 21st century. As our good friend and publisher of the Walrus magazine puts it, “If NCM did not already exist, this country would be compelled to invent it.”
George Abraham is NCM’s founder and publisher.
By: Deanna Cheng in Vancouver, BC
Sniffles came from the crowd. Even the children present knew to remain quiet.
Syrian journalist Maisoun Almasri said she saw her younger brother get shot by a Syrian government sniper. That sniper prevented anyone from trying to rescue the little boy.
Through a translator, Almasri said no one had any experience doing first aid.
“So my brother lost his life in our arms. We can’t do anything. Looking at me, looking at our mother, all those surrounding him, and we can’t do anything. I was haunted by the look in his eyes.”
She said that look haunted her every night. “The feeling of helplessness will kill you. The guilt of doing nothing will kill you.”
Almasri joined the White Helmets after that moment in 2013.
She uses that first memory as a reminder of what it means to be part of the organization and to prevent it from happening again.
In total, she has lost two younger brothers.
Three White Helmets volunteers shared personal stories of their lives in Syria, through Mohammed Alsaleh and two other translators, to a packed hall at Simon Fraser University. Those three volunteers wished for Vancouver residents to understand the daily tragedies happening abroad, to have a better understanding of what the organization is about, and to pressure the Canadian government into helping them build a democracy similar to the one Canadians enjoy.
Syria Civil Defense
White Helmets, known officially as the Syria Civil Defense, is a formal emergency response team of civilian volunteers and an apolitical organization. Its four principles are humanity, objectivity, neutrality and independence.
Almasri said 112,000 lives have been saved by the White Helmets.
Nedal Izdden, one of its board members, said, “We are the only non-armed group doing this kind of work in Syria.”
He adds that 233 volunteers have lost their lives from this war.
By doing this humanitarian work of easing people’s suffering, Izdden said, the volunteers are sending a clear message that violence can only produce violence.
“We strive for stability in the area.”
The ultimate goal is peace, he said. Rebuild the cities and the country.
“We are the only ones praying to lose our jobs,” he joked.
In contrast to the quiet sounds of a little toddler burbling on her father’s lap in the room, Mustafa Almahamed talked about his 10-year-old nephew dying in his arms on December 15, 2012.
Turning to Almasri on the panel, he said, “That look haunted me too.”
Today, Almahamed is the Syria Civil Defense manager for Daraa, a city in southwestern Syria. He continues to face the results of cluster and barrel bombs.
In the last year and a half, the organization started helping people find places to hide when the bombs hit.
Breaking down Gender Barriers
Almasri shared what women have contributed to the cause.
When White Helmets was first established, she said, there were no more than 10 women.
Now there are over 400 female volunteers and more than 45 women centers.
“We provide the same service as men. This includes carrying people to the ambulances and search and rescue.”
The difference they have made are noted in certain conservative groups where women were uncomfortable being helped by men.
Almasri said gender was a barrier. “Women were able to fill the gap and provide support.”
The women centers provide first aid training, search and rescue efforts and trauma support for children, she said. Outreach programs have volunteers doing demonstrations at schools and in people’s homes.
The goal is one rescuer in each home.
“In six months, we have closed more than 30,000 cases,” Almasri said.
Currently, the organization is training women on how to work with unexploded devices and identify non-traditional weapons such as barrel bombs.
When asked how White Helmets remain apolitical and how to ensure it remains that way, Izdden said, “We all know countries have a humanitarian side to them and it is the side we are talking to.”
He said the organization is lucky to be recognized by countries such as the United Kingdom, Canada, Germany, Japan and the Netherlands.
In response to the second part of the question, Izdden said the 4,000 White Helmets are not angels.
“We are everyday people. Our work, like schools and institutions, is dedicated to a code of ethics and a code of conduct.”
He said when they recognize a member who isn’t committed to the organization’s four principles or to its code of ethics and conduct, they simply stop their association with the person and he or she is no longer a member.
Reasons for expulsion include using a gun or an affiliation with a political group.
“Mistakes do happen,” Izdden said. “We do our best to address them when they happen.”
Almasri still reports on life within Syria, issues such as safety and socio-economic affairs, in between her duties as the head staff of women’s affairs. She plans to commit fully to journalism after the White Helmets are not needed anymore.
Same as Izddan with dentistry. Same as Almahamed with auto mechanics.
The event was co-hosted by SFU International, PeaceGeeks and the British Consulate-General Vancouver. The three Syrians visited Ottawa with the assistance of Global Affairs Canada before coming to Vancouver.
Deanna Cheng is a member of the NCM Collective based out of Vancouver.
By: Jagdeesh Mann in Vancouver, BC
New Canadians from South Asia, China and the Philippines are more likely to donate to charitable causes than the general population, a new survey has found.
The survey by the Angus Reid Institute and CHIMP or the Charitable Impact Foundation, found this segment of Canadians – many of whom are motivated to give by their personal religious faith – are more likely to donate to charitable causes than the general population, and more likely to say that they should be doing even more than they already are.
The key findings stated:
• From poverty reduction, to faith-based issues, to human rights, people born outside Canada are more likely to have donated to each of the 11 charitable areas canvassed in this survey;
• While three-in-ten respondents from the general population (30%) say they should be “doing more” to contribute to charitable causes, this sentiment increases to four-in-ten (41%) among those born outside Canada
• Seven-in-ten immigrants surveyed (71%) say their religious beliefs have a strong influence on their giving habits, while fewer than half of the general population say this (46%)
• Money sent to family overseas is a significant source of giving for immigrants – one-in-four (27%) are currently sending money in this way
The survey sample was primarily drawn from individuals who were born in the top three emigrating nations – China, India, and the Philippines – though a handful of respondents say they were born in another country outside of Canada.
In addition to the sample of 439 residents born outside the country, this survey also captured a large group of second-generation Canadians.
“With the percentage of Canada’s population who are immigrants expected to grow in coming years, this segment becomes more important to the Canadian story with each passing year,” said Shachi Kurl, the executive director of the Angus Reid Foundation.
The survey authors said in their report that Canadians as a whole population can be divided into four groups in terms of their charitable behaviour: The Non-Donors, The Casual Donors, The Prompted Donors, and The Super Donors.
The Non-Donors (14% of the general population) are just that: People for whom donating money is simply not something they do. At most, members of this group donate less than $100 dollars and support just one charitable cause in a typical year. The vast majority of this group is even less charitably active.
Slightly more active in their charitable activities are the Casual Donors (31%). Members of this group spread their money around, with most donating to at least two different charities each year, but none of them report donating more than $250 annually.
The other two groups – the Prompted Donors (34%) and the Super Donors (21%) – are each significantly more likely than Casual and Non-Donors to support a variety of charities and to spend more than $250 per year.
Those born outside Canada are much more likely to fall into the Super Donor category. More than one-in-three (36%) may be considered members of the most generous segment of the population, compared to one-in-five (21%) within the overall population, said Kurl.
Across each of the 11 donation areas canvassed in this survey, those born outside of Canada are more likely than the general population to have volunteered or donated to all of them, with the exception of animal welfare causes.
Notably, second-generation Canadians as likely as immigrants to volunteer or donate in many charitable areas. This means that they are also much more likely than the general population to be involved. There is however, a large disparity between first and second generation Canadians in two areas – religious causes and involvement in their own ethnic community.
The role of personal faith is evident among Canadians born overseas. While just three-in-ten (31%) among the total population say they are involved with a religious or faith-based cause, this number jumps to six-in-ten (61%) among immigrants and four-in-ten (43%) among second-generation Canadians.
When looking at the impetus to give, faith is again a factor. Seven-in-ten immigrants to Canada (71%) say their own personal faith has a strong influence on their views of charitable activities. Just under half (46%) of the general population says this. Second-generation Canadians fall in between these two groups (55%):
One-in-four immigrants (27%), are also currently sending money to family overseas in the form of remittances. This represents double the number of second-generation Canadians who say the same (13%), while just a handful of general population Canadians say they are currently remitting.
The group remitting in the greatest numbers, by a large margin, are Filipino immigrants. Among this group, 43 per cent say they are sending money back overseas currently, while those from South Asia (25%) and China (15%) report doing so at a much lower rate.
New Canadians also ranked higher in the “should be doing more to support charitable causes” segment when compared to the general population.
Jagdeesh Mann is a media professional and journalist based in Vancouver. Mann is also a member of the NCM Collective and regular contributor for New Canadian Media. This piece was republished under arrangement with the South Asian Post.
-- Canada's economic development minister Navdeep Bains at a Public Policy Forum economic summit