New Canadian Media

by Marcus Medford in Toronto 

Journalism students say they find value in learning how to report on immigration and race issues. Many would like to see more specialized courses focused on diversity and inclusive reporting. 

“There’s never been a time in my life when this has been more important,” says second-year journalism student from the University of Toronto, Tijuana Turner, referring to the current refugee situation and Justin Trudeau pledging to bring 25,000 Syrians to Canada. 

“For example, describing it as a ‘flood’ of refugees isn’t okay when most people associate a flood with disaster,” she explains. 

Turner moved to Canada from Jamaica two years ago to study at the University of Toronto’s Scarborough campus (UTSC). She says the course Covering Immigration and Transnational Issues” offered at UTSC, which teaches students to analyze news coverage, has helped raise her awareness. 

"[D]escribing it as a ‘flood’ of refugees isn’t okay when most people associate a flood with disaster."

The course includes material on how media outlets frame stories related to race and immigration and how these frames can shape people’s perspective. Before taking it, certain things went over Turner’s head, she explains, but she’s become more critical. 

“You shouldn’t start by saying ‘Refugee Tom...’ That's not inclusion, that’s ‘us vs. them.’ You should try saying, ‘Tom, who is a refugee,’” Turner explains. 

Teaching critical journalism 

datejie green is the Asper Fellow of Media at Western University and a lecturer at UTSC. 

green teaches “Critical Journalism”, which she describes as a “mobilizing, embodied, intersectional approach to journalism” meant to give students a fresh set of eyes to critically engage journalism. The course examines how media cultures address gender, ability, class, sexuality and race.   

“We want to learn about intersectional ways of thinking and mobilize that critical analysis to make sense of everything and write respectfully,” green shares. “These are not static, abstract ideas that we learn and leave in classrooms; these are things journalists need to have at their disposal.” 

Class discussions involve examining the impact and importance of perspective in media. green’s objective is to cross cultural divides in a humanizing way. She says she is open with students about her experiences – as a woman, as someone who’s black, lives with mental illness and is a lesbian – and how it relates to perspective. 

“That shouldn’t detract from my validity as a journalist or a teacher; it’s just a frame. But it allows me to explain how my body is experienced, why and what’s the impact,” green explains. 

Students become aware of different perspectives, which helps journalists “not to write from pre-conceived ideas or ignorance.”

Fatima Al-Sayed is a second-year journalism student in green's class. She says the course is “extremely important” because students become aware of different perspectives, which helps journalists “not to write from pre-conceived ideas or ignorance.” 

“As a woman who wears a hijab, I know the image the media portrays of me because it’s my day-to-day life,” Al-Sayed explains. “I feel like my role in journalism is to change that perspective, but I can’t if I get pulled into that kind of thinking.” 

Integrating diversity lessons throughout j-school 

Specialized courses aren’t the only way to teach these concepts in journalism school. At Langara College in British Columbia, lessons about perspective and diversity are integrated into every course, explains Frances Bula, chair of the journalism program. 

Bula says that in addition to having classrooms and newsrooms that are ethnically diverse, it’s crucial for students to understand the importance of diversifying their sources. 

“From day one, we talk about the importance of diversity and the dangers of getting too comfortable talking with people from a similar age, gender, race, or income background,” Bula explains.    

Journalists should also look to groups who may not have access to the media or may not speak perfect English, Bula adds. 

Petti “Peg” Fong, the assistant department chair at Langara, says courses solely about reporting on race and ethnicity aren’t necessary for journalism students.  

She adds, though, that it’s important for students to understand that audiences and sources come from all different backgrounds to help prevent stereotypes being perpetuated by the media. This is taught throughout other courses, she explains. 

[N]ews gathering should be more inclusive ... or else it runs the risk of stereotyping and misrepresenting.

Students’ role in addressing media bias 

A study from Australia noted that negative and stereotypical coverage of Muslims can foster alienation, which plays into the hands of extremists, says Brad Clark, the journalism and broadcasting chair at Mount Royal University in Calgary. Clark did his doctoral dissertation on representations of ethno-cultural minorities in Canadian media. 

Clark says that news gathering should be more inclusive, especially stories that focus on specific communities, or else it runs the risk of stereotyping and misrepresenting. 

He also says that journalism students can play an important role in addressing implicit biases of mainstream media. 

“They must be allowed to influence news gathering when it strays into the realm of the stereotypic,” he says. “Students need to understand that sometimes it is OK to explore the experience of race, that talking about race isn’t the same as being racist.” 

These issues have become increasingly relevant for j-school students to explore, says Lysia Filotas, a second-year journalism student at Carleton University in Ottawa. Carleton, like Langara doesn’t have a course dedicated to reporting on race and ethnicity, but incorporates it in lessons, something Filotas finds valuable.

“As a reporter, it’s important to learn how these topics colour one’s world views and how not to project that onto someone else during the interview and writing process,” she explains.


This content was developed exclusively for New Canadian Media and can be re-published with appropriate attribution. For syndication rights, please write to publisher@newcanadianmedia.ca

Published in Education
Tuesday, 19 May 2015 09:52

Tell Everyone: A Sharing Renaissance?

by Marco Campana (@MarcoPolis) in Toronto

Marco CampanaIn Tell Everyone: How the Stories We Share Shape What We Know and Why It Matters, author Alfred Hermida explores how social media has the potential to be revolutionary in all aspects of our lives, “if we take the trouble to discover why people share and with whom.” Hermida explores the underlying emotions of sharing. Those who wish to reach us and want us to share what they offer must connect with us on an emotional level.

It’s not a how-to book. But it is a wide-ranging book about what to be aware of, as social media becomes an increasingly important tool in our work or life. It will be of interest to you if you’re wondering how social media specifically impacts entertainment, activism, politics, international crises, marketing or business.

The book is meticulously researched, with extensive notes at the back of the book for further perusal, if you’re so inclined. But are you?

Ultimately, this book is about literacy; it’s about the need to develop our critical thinking skills to properly assess the information we get from social media. It’s something we all need to become better at, whether assessing a rumour someone shares on Twitter, or figuring out how to deal with information flowing out of a massive natural disaster.

Tell Everyone is an easy read. A comfortable read, much like diving into someone’s blog. Hermida mixes well-known anecdotes about social media fails and successes with stories I had no idea about.

You’ve heard about the amplifying use of social media during “Arab Spring,” you see the tweets in mainstream media stories about natural disasters and corporate communication blunders. But did you know that citizens in drug-infested towns in Mexico tweet about cartel violence locations to help neighbours plan their day more safely? Mind blowing.

The book is meticulously researched, with extensive notes at the back of the book for further perusal, if you’re so inclined. But are you?

Hermida acknowledges that “(t)here are consequences when our social circles become our editorial filters.” Facebook research itself confirms a growing echo chamber on its own service, where everyone around us reinforces our own views and we don’t seek, see or hear opposing views.

One of the issues we all face with incessant information overload and over-sharing is that we read, scratch the surface, but don’t dive into the notes, the sources, the evidence. And, if you share to the extent Hermida shows many of us do, you’re probably not doing it nearly critically enough.

That’s an increasingly large problem, which needs some attention.

A ‘Renaissance in Sharing’ . . . Is ‘Ours to Use’

Hermida outlines his concern for the “gulf between our view of social media and our understanding of it.” For him, it is “not a story about technology . . . [rather] our human urge to share.”

At the same time, it is always about the technology. Now more than ever before, we can publish with few technological barriers, to the point where “mainstream and social media intertwine to influence what makes the news and how the news is presented.” Your voice may become the voice I listen to and trust, at the expense of trained journalists and editors.

Hermida acknowledges that “[t]here are consequences when our social circles become our editorial filters.” Facebook research itself confirms a growing echo chamber on its own service, where everyone around us reinforces our own views and we don’t seek, see or hear opposing views. It’s a problem, particularly with increasing numbers of people who wait for the news to find them, instead of seeking it out.

As with many issues, this isn’t an Internet problem, it’s a human problem. Many of us have become “accidental news consumers.” We log onto Facebook to find cat videos, writes Hermida, but “stumble across news items by accident.”

In a shifting media era when “all the news that’s fit to share” becomes the priority, alarm bells go off. If media only chase what’s popular, we risk our independent, investigative and informative journalism. Hermida doesn’t delve deeply enough into the primacy of the popular and how this can impact our news literacy or democracy; he merely states that it is part of our new reality.

Hermida is certainly not utopian in his approach. He explores both the downside and potential of social media in our lives. And he offers a well-balanced view of both possibilities, ranging from devastating social shaming to what brings down corrupt government leaders.

It’s not enough. Living in an echo chamber isn’t new, it’s part of being human, Hermida argues. But, as Facebook and other filtering technologies contribute to the already human tendency we have to surround ourselves with people like us, who think like us, and like what we like, how can we get beyond the echo chamber?

It is, as Hermida writes, essential for us to commit to “going beyond similar people and connecting with those with different backgrounds or views.”

We could all spend more time learning about our own habits and biases and seek diversity of voices in our lives. Yes. But, while independent journalism is popping up more than ever before (see this website, the Tyee, Ricochet, rabble, Rebel TV and others), in many cases this can only serve to deepen the echo chamber.

As with many issues, this isn’t an Internet problem, it’s a human problem. Many of us have become “accidental news consumers.” We log onto Facebook to find cat videos, writes Hermida, but “stumble across news items by accident.”

There’s more Hermida could delve into here. Hermida tells us that the information flow is ours to use. How do we, as individuals, practically take on that task as we’re bombarded with overwhelming information, opinions, rumours and news?

As our friends and connections “are taking on the job of editors, filtering and selecting what is important, interesting or diverting” for us, it’s ever more important that we find ways to identify trusted and diverse sources.

Hermida is optimistic about research that shows how weak online ties and casual social media acquaintances expose us to more diversity of thought. But how many of us actually click, read or even skim that diversity?

Few of us actively look for diverse or opposing views to our own. I don’t share his optimism that merely being exposed to diverse perspectives in the fire hose of our newsfeeds leads to greater mutual understanding.

Your Homework

Hermida recommends we use social media with purpose. He refers to “situational awareness,” essentially creating a personal social media strategy: be aware of what is happening around you, make sense of what we see/hear, use that understanding to make better decisions (i.e. share better), backed up with data and evidence.

When we share, share well. When we consume, consume more critically. It makes sense to have a strategy to be better communicators and curators. This book won’t give you the how – just the strong suggestion that you should.

It’s a start. But there’s more Hermida could delve into here. Hermida tells us that the information flow is ours to use. How do we, as individuals, practically take on that task as we’re bombarded with overwhelming information, opinions, rumours and news?

Spend some time with Howard Rheingold’s approach to “CRAP detection.” Like Hermida, Rheingold looks at how an old skill, critical thinking, can be applied in a new medium. It’s a skill we all need to develop.


Marco Campana does freelance communications work with organizations that serve immigrants, refugees and promote diversity. He provides social media support, writing, editing and internal website consultation and strategy. In particular, he helps settlement agencies harness and implement social media and technology in their community service work.

This content was developed exclusively for New Canadian Media and can be re-published with appropriate attribution. For syndication rights, please write to publisher@newcanadianmedia.ca

Published in Books

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