T h e c a n a d i a n a s s o c i aT i o n o f j o u r n a l i s T s • W i n T e r 2 0 1 0 • v o l u M e 1 4 , n u M b e r T h r e e •
“Dirty Little Secret”
Radio-Canada’s Alain Gravel and Marie-Maude Denis expose
allegations of corruption within the city’s construction industry
By Andrew King and Fiona Collienne
WinTer 2010 • voluMe 14, nuMber TWo
w w w. c a j . c a / m e d i a m a g
4 f i r s T W o r d by david McKie
6 WriTer’s T o o l b o x by don Gibb • creating an outline makes the writing easier.
9 j o u r n a l i s M n e T by julian sher • When looking for people online, think before you click.
f e aT u r e s
11 e x P o s i n G M o n T r e a l’ s “ d i r T Y l i T T l e s e c r e T ” by andrew King and fiona collienne
Two reporters teamed up for one of the most explosive stories in recent memory.
13 h o W i T b e G a n by andrew King and fiona collienne
Marie-Maude denis and alain Gravel explain how they connected the dots between
Montreal city hall and an alleged corruption construction ring.
15 n o M o r e a n o n Y M o u s s o u r c e s by catharine Tunney
saint john new brunswick’s Telegraph-journal will no longer quote people unless they are on the record.
18 s T r a P P e d f o r c a s h by james Whitehead
WinTer 2010 • voluMe 14, nuMber Three
The canadian association of journalists is broke. The question is, for how long?
20 o n T h e r o a d T o o b l i v i o n by nick fillmore a P u b l i c aT i o n o f
it’s time media outlets began searching for alternative models that can only live online.
T h e c a n a d i a n a s s o c i aT i o n o f j o u r n a l i s T s
22 W h i T h e r i n v e s T i G aT i v e j o u r n a l i s M by nicole feriancek 1 1 0 6 W e l l i n G T o n s T. P. o . b o x 3 6 0 3 0 o T TaWa , o n K 1 Y 4 v 3
former Toronto star publisher john honderich argues that future business models
of journalism must reserve a place for hard-hitting exposés.
ediTor leGal advisor arT direcTion and desiGn
david McKie Pe t e r j a c o b s e n , b e r s e n a s rafia Mahli
coluMns jacobsen chouest Thomson
24 T h e b a c K s T o r Y by Glen McGregor • Two reporters, computer-assisted reporting students coPY ediTor blackburn llP conTribuTors
from algonquin college, and a whole bunch of data. anne larrass Peter calamai, andrew cohen,
26 T h e n e W K i d o n T h e b l o c K b y Peter calamai • The science Media centre of canada will help adverTisinG sales fiona collienne, nicole
journalists make sense of stories such as h1n1. john dickins feriancek, nick fillmore,
chris cobb catherine ford, Mary Gazze, don
29 f e e d s a n d l e d e s by Mary Gazze • search engine optimization (seo) increases the odds catherine ford a d M i n i s T r aT i v e d i r e c T o r
that more people will read your story online. Gibb, dean jobb, andrew King,
Michelle Macafee john dickins Glen McGregor, david McKie,
31 d i G i Ta l j o u r n a l i s T by sandra ordonez • There are practical steps to learning seo. lindsay crysler (613) 526-8061 sandra ordonez, julian sher,
33 T h e f i n e P r i n T by dean jobb • journalists are using social networking tools such as Twitter john Gushue fax: (613) 521-3904 Kelly Toughill, catherine Tunney,
to beef up their court coverage rob cribb fred vallance-jones, stephen j,a,
34 l e G a l u P d aT e by dean jobb • The supreme court of canada recently handed journalists a huge victory. r o b Wa s h b u r n Ward, james Whitehead
36 e T h i c s by stephen j.a. Ward • We should always remember that good journalism helps citizens deliberate. cover PhoTo
radio-canada reporters alain Gravel and Marie-Maude denis. Photo by andrew King.
38 c o M P u T e r - a s s i s T e d r e P o r T i n G by fred vallance-jones • in an effort to stay relevant,
Microsoft is enhancing its features for excel and access.
39 i n s i d e T h e n u M b e r s by Kelly Toughill• counting crowds at events is difficult, but there are ways to do it. Media is published by the canadian association of journalists. it is managed and edited independently from the caj
and its contents do not necessarily reflect the views of the association.
40 P o s T s c r i P T by andrew cohen • remembering Michelle lang, the first canadian journalist
s u b s c r i p t i o n s a r e $ 1 4 . 9 8 p e r y e a r ( G . s . T. i n c l u d e d ) , p a y a b l e i n a d v a n c e .
killed in afghanistan.
i n d e x e d i n t h e c a n a d i a n Pe r i o d i c a l i n d e x.
42 T h e l a s T W o r d by catherine ford • The good old days at canwest are gone—forever. c a n a d a Po s t Pu b l i c a t i o n s , c a n a d i a n M a i l s a l e s Pr o d u c t a g r e e m e n t n o . 1 8 2 7 9 6 i s s n 1 1 9 8 - 2 2 0 9
2 media Winter 2010 3
Where are we going? based in ottawa, sMcc promises to demystify
the science that forms the building blocks of
stories from h1n1 to possible life forms on
As we head into a new decade the future may be uncertain, the red Planet. former Toronto star science
but the possibilities are also limitless columnist, Peter calamai, explains that the cen-
tre will provide a number of services, including
media briefings on demand and workshops in THE CAJ PRESENTS:
David McKie interpreting certain data. as we saw during the JOURNALISM IN THE 21ST CENTURY CONFERENCE
h1n1 saga, media outlets struggled to find a
The past decade shortening their newscasts. These two jour- few people read the story, then the artistry balance between warning canadians about the Your newsroom’s depopulated. You’re doing video, blogging, Tweeting and
has been a mixture of nalists bucked that trend and were grateful that went into spinning the yarn has been risks without scaring them to death, a charge writing stories. You’re wondering what the future holds for good journalism.
fear and hope. bosses to their bosses. Gravel and denis were given wasted, especially since more of this material leveled by high-profile critics. The centre
are tightening their the breathing room, the resources and the ends up online, either in its original form, or couldn’t come at a better time. This is the conference for you.
belts and cutting jobs. necessary air time to pursue and tell an as a separate, value-added package of stories, and there is also more good news for
journalists are thinking important story. With time and space now slide shows or graphs that use the web to journalists, this time from the country’s What: A one-day crash course on the skills you need transform your
about new ways to earn considered a luxury, it’s no wonder that convey more content. increasingly, writing for highest court. in late december, the reporting and reinvent your newsroom in the new digital age.
David McKie edits money, perhaps by mi- Toronto star’s former publisher, the bow-tie the web is becoming part of the job descrip- supreme court of canada brought down Learn about emerging techniques, technologies and models to
Media. He is an grating online, perhaps wearing john honderich, used his platform tion for journalists at media outlets both large a ruling that allows journalists to use the transform journalism for the 21st century.
author and award-
by getting out of the at an event sponsored by the university of and small. This means in addition to follow- “responsible journalism” defence, a topic When: Saturday, January 30, 2010
business altogether. un- King’s college to ask for a continued com- ing some of don’s storytelling tips, we must that our legal expert, dean jobb, has tackled Where: MaRS Centre, Toronto
with the CBC’s
certainty and potential mitment to investigative journalism. develop techniques that allow search engines many times in his column. in dissecting Who: Students, working journalist and managers; there are sessions
are themes reflected in nicole feriancek quotes honderich, who such as Google to locate our stories. the ruling’s significance, dean writes: “in
David also teaches for every skill level.
at the schools this edition of Media. worries about the impact the web is having on in her inaugural column, we’re calling essence, it grants journalists reporting on
of journalism at our cover story fea- the quality of journalism, as the immediacy feeds and ledes, Mary Gazze introduces us issues of public importance the right to be Speakers include:
Carleton Univer- tures the brilliant work of posting material online can become more to something called, search engine optimiza- wrong. not completely wrong, of course, but
sity and Algonquin of two Montreal-based important than taking the time needed to get tion. seo is a concept that is new for jour- the defence will defeat a libel claim if, despite Jim Brady, president, digital strategy, Allbritton Communications
College. reporters at radio- it right. Though he concedes the web is fast nalists who have traditionally limited their the journalist’s best efforts, some facts or al- and former executive editor of WashingtonPost.com
canada, the cbc’s becoming a medium of choice, honderich storytelling to the traditional venues such as legations turn out to be wrong or false.”
french-language service. alain Gravel host of cautions that “serious, thought-provoking, newspapers. “in plain, nontechnical terms,” as the title of the defence suggests, re- Michael Lee, chief strategy officer, Rogers
enquête and Marie-Maude denis, a crime investigative journalism must continue.” she writes, “(seo) is a technique where you sponsible journalism is not a green light for
Rachel Nixon, director of digital news, CBC News Online
reporter turned full-time investigative journal- it’s also significant to point out that both take popular keywords and put them into irresponsible journalism; nor does it lessen
ist, combined on a story that has all the intrigue stories, as are many others in this edition of the body of your story to help it climb to the the responsibility to bullet-proof stories Kenny Yum, editor, GlobeandMail.com
of a crime novel. in their story about how the Media, are written by journalism students. in top of a search results page.” through proper legwork, documentation
journalists broke the story, andrew King and universities and colleges across the country, in increasing the size of the audience for a and discussions with lawyers before going to Sessions include:
fiona collienne, write: “Known as the fabulous students such as andrew and nicole are in particular story, seo also helps media outlets air, print or the web. however, the defence Online videography
14, the construction companies and the italian the middle of this debate about our future. entice advertisers, a factor of crucial impor- makes it easier to pursue stories that take on Photography crash course for print reporters
Mafia are said to have colluded while bidding Whether you’re talking about a piece that tance as journalism tries to re-invent itself in powerful interests such as the construction Making the most of social media
for road construction contracts. The investiga- is to be broadcasted, published in a news- cyberspace. like any other skill, mastering industry or litigious politicians. Visual storytelling
tion reported that the construction firms fixed paper, or posted online, journalists must seo takes time. however, there are tips to get as well, the ruling includes bloggers, thus Searching the web: Getting beyond Google
bids by establishing the lowest cost, inflating remember they’re storytellers. our stellar you going quickly. and this is where the ad- recognizing their work as a legitimate form The ethics of social media
it, and then distributing the work amongst writing coach don Gibb reminds us of the vice from sandra ordonez of ourblook.com, of journalism.
themselves.” importance of crafting an outline, which in- a u.s.-based website that focuses on changes The supreme court judges’ inclusion of Cost: $119 for CAJ members. $299 for nonmembers. $50 for students
The story made news for months, volves reviewing a checklist, just like a pilot within the industry, comes into play. bloggers is timely, coming at a time when and unemployed journalists.
influenced the narrative, though not the does before take-off. Though the task may “as more publications shift their attention our definition of news and who deserves Register: Online at www.caj.ca
outcome, of Montreal’s municipal election, seem repetitive and boring, the checklist to establishing a stronger online presence,” the right to call themselves a journalist has
and resonated in Quebec city’s national helps journalists smoothly navigating read- writes sandra, “seo is an intrinsic tool to sparked a legitimate debate, which is par- For further information:
assembly. The voices demanding a public ers, viewers or listeners through the contours increasing traffic and, most importantly, tially reflected in this edition of Media. CAJ president Mary Agnes Welch (204) 470.8862 or (204) 697.7590;
inquiry will grow louder. of the narrative, be it corruption within the building an online community.” Chairman, Saleem Khan (416) 494.0908 or email@example.com
happy new Year and continued good wish-
The story is also significant because it construction industry, or problems getting in addition to ourblook.com, other organi- es for journalism, a profession which, to borrow
To join the CAJ, please visit: www.caj.ca/membership/index.html
comes at a time when traditional media the h1n1 vaccine to those who need it. zations have emerged to help journalists. one a phrase that made news during the turbulent
outlets are shrinking their news holes and attention to narrative is essential. but if of them is the science Media centre of canada. year we’ve just endured, “is too big to fail.” M
4 media Winter 2010 5
Make a plan before you write of a story before moving into straight
chronology with this happened, then
use strong, active verbs. Try to avoid
“there is” leads.
“More than i could ever use,” Miss
Mccarty said the other day with-
this, followed by this, this and this… Watch for clichés, too many numbers, out a trace of self-pity. so she is
It’s less work than you think and jargon. giving her money away, to finance
• block or chapter. This form allows scholarships for black students at
you to divide a story into specific Backing up the lead the university of southern Mis-
Don Gibb chapters. in a story about the death The idea here is to let your second sissippi here in her hometown,
of a pastry chef at the World Trade sentence flow from the first and your where tuition is $2,400 a year.
i had the pleasure (?)
of being the first vic-
tim to fly with my son
Writing coach don Murray (The
boston Globe) says, “Most good stories say
one thing. They talk not of a battle, but of
helps keep related material together.
You can decide: What’s my opening?
Where do i go from there? What individ-
center on sept. 11, 2001, the opening
“chapter” dealt with the details of his
death that day. The next chapter told
third flow from the second. in other
words, allow yourself time to develop and
strengthen your lead (focus) before charg-
stories often need background. To un-
after he had earned a soldier.” ual issues or topics need to be addressed? readers his life story—from growing ing ahead with background. derstand your story, readers and listeners
his small-plane pilot’s so before you begin to write, ask your- What’s my ending? up in Puerto rico to his arrival in The biggest weakness—after writing need to know its history (the past), where
licence. self: What’s my story? The answer should This is more efficient than fumbling america. That was followed by prepa- the opening sentence—is moving directly it stands today (present) and where it
at the time, i be no more than a few words—preferably around in your notebook, replaying your rations for his funeral. into background or jumping immediately goes from here (future). Without context,
Don Gibb retired in didn’t know it would one word. digital recording or dumping everything This form forces you to decide what into a quote before readers fully under- readers and listeners are left to wonder
2008 after teaching goes into your story (and each chap- stand what the story is about. background what the story is all about and why it is
prompt a comparison here’s an example. a couple who onto the computer. by writing a brief
reporting for 20 important or relevant.
to writing. lost their only son in a car accident were outline, you quickly determine what’s ter) and what gets left out. can wait until your nut graf. (paragraph),
years at Ryerson’s
i watched him go interviewed a year after the ordeal. They important and what’s not, what you’re which is usually paragraph three, or four,
School of Journal-
through an exten- were working hard to save their marriage, using and what you’re not. i wish i could • classic feature. This form is prob- or maybe even five. Use of quotes
ism. He can be
reached at dgibb1@ sive checklist that to overcome guilt and blame, to deal with convince writers this actually saves time. ably the most common. it often Keep them short, make them lively, and
cogeco.ca included pre-flight involves finding someone through Nut graf don’t overuse them. long-winded quotes
(“got enough fuel?”), whom to tell the story and it often This is the sentence or paragraph that are a problem, especially if you rely heavily
takeoff, climb, cruise, descent and landing opens with an anecdote that speaks tells readers what the story is about and on digital recorders and insist on playing
(“are you sure you have the right run- Buildings have a basic structure. to the theme or focus. The story ends why they should read it. it usually appears back the entire interview or worse, dump-
way?”). each of these categories and more
come with a checklist of as many as 20
Stories need the same...Structure is by coming full circle, returning to the
central character in your lead. The
by the fourth paragraph. and it can be as
simple as telling readers this (is a story
ing everything onto your computer screen.
The recorder is a wonderful tool, but
items. from the moment he pulled the about finding the right “form” through classic feature is most successful when
the person who opens your story
about) national Procrastinators Week.
some of you hate the nut graf. because
you need to show discipline in using it.
notetaking should not be sacrificed in
plane from the hangar to the moment he
returned it there, he followed a lengthy which to tell your story. continues to be woven through the you think it interferes with the rhythm or favour of recording alone. notetaking
script. every pilot goes through the same story. if a person deserves to be the flow of your story. but once you get used should be your primary source in writ-
procedure on every flight. lead, they likely deserve to be a more to the fact that stories need this essential ing a story; the digital recorder is your
so it brought to mind the extensive friends who thought their grieving should Structure significant part of the entire story element, your challenge is to make it fit backup.
checklist writers need to review every time be over, to cope with highs and lows every buildings have a basic structure. stories seamlessly into your story. here’s a guideline: Quotes should run
they write. Much of it seems basic—as do day, and to try to concentrate on their need the same. once the basic structure is Leads here’s an example of a seamless nut no longer than one or two sentences. it
the checks made by pilots—but we need jobs. The common thread throughout the established, then you provide the creative We agonize over the first sentence be- graf—paragraphs three and four from a better be fantastic to run three. and when
to remind ourselves often so we don’t fall story revolved around one word—surviv- element that makes it different from cause we’ve been told that unless we hook new York Times story (rick bragg) about you have a quote where the interview sub-
into bad routines or bad habits. ing. This was the focus. another building or another story. readers and listeners, they won’t stick with a black washerwoman who donated her ject has so garbled the language or takes
so here’s a primer on some of the basics find the one word that best describes structure is about finding the right us. so here’s my advice: life savings to the local university (nut too long to make the point, paraphrase.
of writing—a checklist, if you will, that the story you are about to tell and chances “form” through which to tell your story. shorter leads work better (under 30 graf in italics): William Zinsser (on Writing Well) puts
always needs our attention. are you will stay focused. here are a few of the more common words) because studies have shown that she spent almost nothing, living it this way:
forms: reader comprehension drops off after 25 in her old family home, cutting “People who you think have been
Focus Story outline • chronological. This allows you to words. broadcasters are better at this than the toes out of shoes if they did talking into the tape recorder with
stories with one well-developed focus few of us take time to think about tell the story beginning at the begin- print people. not fit right and binding her linear precision turn out, when
or theme work better than those that try the story before we begin to write. smart ning and moving to the end in linear leave lengthy job titles for later. ragged bible with scotch tape to your interview is transcribed, to
to tackle too much. Multi-focused stories writers build in time to sketch out a brief fashion. it has a sense of order and deal with one item in your lead rather keep corinthians from falling out. have been stumbling so aimlessly
tend to be superficial because they flit outline—a road map to give them a sense relies heavily on good storytelling than two or more. an opening sentence over the decades, her pay—mostly over the sand of language that
from one topic to another, never develop- of direction. it helps set up your story in skills to keep it moving. You can also that tackles two or more items is called a dollar bills and change—grew to they haven’t completed a decent
ing anything to its full extent. terms of your theme and sub-themes. it open with a particularly dramatic part double-barrelled lead. more than $150,000. sentence.”
continued on page 8
6 media Winter 2010 7
continued from page 7
Think before you click
if your interview is on tape you become Balance about getting beyond pat and rehearsed
a listener, forever fussing with the machine, Most writers know the importance of answers. This isn’t to say you will get
running it backward to find the brilliant getting all sides of a story. sometimes that your subject off message track, but you
It’s the best way to find everyone from experts to long-lost friends
remark you can never find, running it means little more than a “no comment” or stand a better chance of redirecting
forward, stopping, starting, driving yourself telling readers and listeners that impor- an interview by asking questions that
crazy. be a writer. Write things down. tant sources were not available. challenge. examples: What would you Julian Sher
say to those who think your idea won’t
it’s fine for one side of the story to be hat is the big- same searches 20 years ago before the next question is: is this person hiding
Attribution given prominence, but the other side (or work? how do you know that? Why gest mistake web existed. Would you run out to (or at least trying not to be found) or
it can be overused. When it is obvious sides) should not be relegated to near the should people care? What do you gain people make in the street and start asking anyone you just unknown to you? for some basic
who is speaking, writers need not use “he bottom of the story. it’s important early from this? as well, know why you are trying to use the in- bumped into if they know an add clues to finding someone who is making
said” or “she said.” attribution can often in the story to tell readers and listeners asking your questions. if your subject ternet to find people expert or heard of your long-lost friend? it hard, check www.reporter.org/desk-
be deleted following a quote where you there is another side—and the “other reacts angrily, you take the pressure off or do research on no. but that’s what you’re doing by top/tips/johndoe.htm
have already introduced the speaker in a side” should be flagged high in the story. yourself by explaining why you think someone? relying on a blind search with Google. if the person is not hiding, you
previous sentence or paragraph. Then you can develop it in more detail the question is important.
Julian Sher, does not having a in the real world, a seasoned inves- can use the various phone directories
“said” or “says” are the most neutral later in the story. 4) ask story-ending questions. These
Internet training in strategy. instead of tigator would plot a strategy and make listed on jnet’s find Phones page
and serviceable attributives in your vocab- are questions that might give you a
newsrooms around blindly punching a list. Where am i likely to find this [www.journalismnet.com/phones].
the world and can in keywords into person or information about them? Whitespages.com in particular will of-
be reached by email your favorite search should i consult the local library, the ten list other people living in the same
It’s important early in the story to tell readers and listeners at jsher@journal-
engine—and for most
people, that means
newspaper archives, the yellow pages
or a private detective? Who can help
household. next, move on the public
records and criminal records listed at
there is another side—and the “other side” should be flagged more information,
check out his per-
piece of advice: be-
me narrow down my search? in other
words, you use special tools for specific
jnet’s find PeoPle page www.jour-
nalismnet.com/people. everything from
high in the story. Then you can develop it in more detail sonal page at www.
fore your first click, tasks. to boating licenses to court records can
think. Well, the internet is not a virtual help you find your target.
later in the story. i have been train- world. it has become our real world. here’s another trick. if someone
ing people for ten years in mastering so you should apply the same basic you are looking for had a personal or
the web as an investigative tool—from strategy to finding people on the web. business web page, but then removed
ulary. Yet some of you strive to introduce Interviewing natural ending to your story. examples: the newsrooms of cnn and bbc to Plot your strategy, figure out where the it, you can use the Wayback machine
many variations in your stories to avoid— This is an entire book, but here are four What have you learned from this ex- librarians and law enforcement. and person is likely to be found (or who at www.archive.org . it tries to ar-
what?—monotony. often substitutions for key points. perience? Where do you go from here? what always surprises me is how people would know) and then use special web chive cached version of millions of
said or says are used incorrectly. 1) ask follow-up questions as a matter What message would you give others? throw out basic logic and common tools for specific tasks. sites—quite random, but useful when
The canadian Press stylebook makes of habit. do not leave a topic until you endings are just as important as your sense when they plop themselves in you luck in. There is time lag time of
this valid point: “admit” implies confes- have explored it fully and understood it openings. front of a computer. approximately six
sion, “affirm” states a fact, “assert” declares fully. if you do this, your questions will is this it? are we finished? no. We’re here’s a typical
scenario. let’s say
The Internet is not a virtual world. months. so you won’t
be able to locate
strongly, “claim” and “maintain” hint of become sharper and more focused as the actually in mid-flight. This is the first
doubt, “confide” implies a confidence, interview progresses and you begin to bet- of two parts. in the next issue of Media someone in your com- It has become our real world. So you archived versions
“disclose” and “reveal” presume earlier ter understand the story at hand. magazine, we’ll add to this checklist pany is trying to find that may have been
concealment. 2) ask open-ended questions. The with topics that include sentence length, an expert on children should apply the same basic strategy recently pulled down.
with attention-deficit Many people
all good reasons to stick to “said” or
“why,” “how,” and “what” questions will
generate more detailed answers. if you
observation skills, tight writing/rewriting,
using numbers, eliminating jargon, and disorder (add) and to finding people on the web. have facebook or
so how do you make stories appear less find yourself sweating through a series of developing good endings. at the same time, you Myspace pages—or
formal or stodgy when you have to keep “yes” or “no” responses, regroup and start both parts should give you a better are trying to locate Find ordinary people their friends do. one
saying he said, she said? leave it out when asking why and how. appreciation of how much we need to re- a long-lost friend from high school. Who you are looking for determines search engine called Yoname [www.
it’s obvious who’s doing the saying or 3) don’t be afraid to ask challenging member every time we begin the process inevitably, you both rush to Google and where you look. is this person an expert yoname.com] checks out many social
move attribution around—the beginning, or tough questions. Writers often tell of gathering information and writing a start rifling through the results. and, if or a well-known personality (our add networking sites at once. has somebody
middle and end of sentences—so that me they have trouble “going for the jug- story for print or broadcast. every story, you’re lucky you might get some decent specialist) or just an ordinary person on Myspace set their profile to private?
every paragraph doesn’t begin with he ular.” Well…when you put it that way! like every flight, requires a concentrated results. but why rely just on luck? (your former high school sweetheart.) You can still get in through the back
said or she said. it’s not about going for the jugular, it’s review of the basics. M now imagine you tried to do the let’s start with ordinary people. The door by doing a Google site search. Type
continued on page 10
8 media Winter 2010 9
feature: cover story
continued from page 9
in site:profile.myspace.com and the key- York Times or cnn, that’s at least a first html) to use the more powerful tools
words you want. often cached versions indication of credibility. and chances are there. for starters, do a domain search
of personal pages belonging to your if he or she doesn’t fit your bill, they will to narrow your search by country or How two journalists exposed Montréal’s dirty little secret
subject or his or he friends come up. know someone who does. even to use the power of Google to
if you want to pay for complete next, use some of Google’s other, search one site. (see how at www.jour-
background searches—mainly only lesser-known branches. nalismnet.com/tips/domain.htm ) for Andrew King
for americans—for everything from Google scholar ( scholar.google.com) example, you want to search the entire and Fiona Collienne
criminal records to drivers licenses and gives you academic papers and higher- state department website for the lat-
neighbours—you can try the various level commentaries than you find on est reports on darfur or you want to
data-mining companies such as www. the general web. hunt through cnn’s website for an
onlinepublicrecordssearch.com, www. Google books ( books.google.com ) al- obscure report on soccer equipment.
intelius.com, www.usseaach.com and lows you to search not just for authors use Google, not those web sites’ own
www.PeoplesearchPro.com. and titles but keywords – and you can search tools.
for canada, try www.efindoutthet- read large excerpts of the books to see also change the “format” button to
net and www.infocheckusa.com/canada-
if the author is the kind of person you
need to talk to. (see below as well for
find slideshows, spreadsheets and Pdfs.
(see how at www.journalismnet.com/
Andrew King is
final year of his
d espite the layoffs,
backs and the closing
of stations across the
Basic Google is fine when you already know what you’re looking at Concordia
journalism is thriv-
for—for example, you already know the name of the professor Collienne recently
earned a master
ing within Montréal,
and in particular, at
and his university and you just want to find a web page with his of journalism
from IHECS in radio-canada, where a
reporting team has led
or her publications. Instead, move on to Advanced Google to use Brussels.
the way with a mas- YOUTH AND EXPERIENCE: Marie-Maude Denis and Alain Gravel teamed up to crack a sensational
the more powerful tools there. sive investigation into Montréal’s corrupt
case that will have people talking for years to come. Photo: Andrew King.
ficers—for a public inquiry. Municipal and ment came from reputable source, she
reports began airing last March about provincial governments are under pressure. admitted that it wasn’t enough on its own,
the suspected collusion between 14 Mon- The two journalists behind the investiga- but it was something to build on. That
background-check.htm. a tip on how to change the ‘format” tips/format.htm) This is an excellent tréal construction contractors. Known as tion, radio-canada’s alain Gravel, host of document, now profiled in their investiga-
for more such tools, see jnet’s result in your Google search to look way to find expert: if someone has the “fabulous 14,” the construction compa- the public affairs program enquête, and tion, was evidence of covert language in-
canada and us crime database pages for slide shows and other reports by bothered posting a slideshow on aids nies and the italian Mafia are said to have Marie-Maude denis, who recently left the volving golf scores used between members
which can easily be accessed from the Google.) in african women on the web, they’re colluded while bidding for road construc- newsroom to join radio-canada’s investi- of organized crime and the construction
main jnet page. probably an expert on it. tion contracts. The investigation reported gative unit full time, sat down to explain industry to discuss contract bids.
Mastering Google and while you’re at it, try out some that the construction firms fixed bids by how the arrival of a document one year although it seemed ridiculous to Gravel
Find experts alright. after—and only after—you of Google’s competitors.(see www. establishing the lowest cost, inflating it, ago allowed them to break one the biggest and denis at first, the document became
if it’s an expert you’re looking for, have mapped out your strategy and you journalismnet.com/search/best.htm) and then distributing the work amongst scandals in recent Montréal history. the catalyst for the investigation. once
there are plenty of specialized sites have deployed the appropriate special- Microsoft’s new bing ( www.bing.com) themselves. they began airing stories, and after they
to help you out. start at jnet’s find ized tools above should you throw is trying to do a better job of sorting former Quebec transport official, fran- The day began like any other appeared on the show Tout le Monde en
exPerTs page (www.journalismnet. yourself at the mercy of Google. results by suggesting connected people çois beaudry, was one of the many sources last november, denis was working as Parle, the tips poured in.
com/experts) but even then, don’t waste much time or themes. clusty ( www.clusty.com) was who came forward. he alleged large-scale the newsroom’s crime beat reporter, a posi-
another good place to start is Google on the basic Google site. basic Google is one of the first to try to build “clus- corruption with the Mafia controlling 80 tion she admitted was not envied by many The partnership is formed
news (news.google.com). You can search fine when you already know what you’re ters” of your results and group them by percent of the road construction contracts. at radio-canada, but one she embraced. Gravel recalls the day he was asked to
45,000 newspapers. use the advanced looking for—for example, you already theme. The stories showed the average price of she received some information from one of team-up with denis. she arrived up at his
search section (news.google.ca/news/ad- know the name of the professor and his all these tricks and tools will not road work in Quebec was 37 percent higher her sources. office with the document in hand.
vanced_news_search?pz=1&cf=all&ned= university and you just want to find a guarantee that you’ll find the person than the national average, costing Quebec- “We received a document showing that “she is young, not as experienced as
ca&hl=en) to narrow it down by country, web page with his or her publications. you’re looking for. but they will guar- ers millions of dollars every year. These rev- many big construction companies were me and my boss asked me ‘do you want
state or city and date. hey, if the expert instead, move on to advanced antee you won’t waste your time during elations have prompted calls—even from talking to each other to fix the price of the to work with this young woman?’” says
is good enough to be quoted by the new Google ( google.com/ advanced_search. the hunt. M the union representing provincial police of- bids,” recalls denis. although the docu- Gravel. he said ‘yes,’ and the unlikely team
continued on page 12
10 media Winter 2010 11
continued from page 11 Cover story interview
composed of experience and youth had the worked so well that Gravel had difficulty she is not involved in that.” but despite the
full support of their bosses. remembering the sources real names. long hours and the constant pressures of Alain Gravel and Marie-Maude Denis explain how
“The best thing is that we did not have “We have the ‘hunter,’ the ‘complainer’, the story and home life, Gravel, a journalist
to convince [radio-canada] much, because ‘the crier ‘, ‘the chicken’, ‘the cleaner’, ‘the of 30 years, has no regrets. they teamed up and made the combination work
this story was always going forward and queen,’ ‘the farmer,’ and i don’t remember “i am in the middle of something really
there were always new elements coming the real name of these people,” he says, important, i think it is one of the first times
in,” says denis, who was relieved of her laughing. aside from the fun they had of my career where i have a real feeling of aK: how did the idea originally come to after we aired it for the first time, we talk. We did not have the pressure that it
newsroom duties in order to devote all of in creating the names, it was an essential being able to change something, clearly,” he you ? started receiving a lot of tips and anony- had to work on the first shot because it
her time to the story. practice in order to keep their sources says. “We are almost in the middle of a jour- Marie-Maude: it started with a document mous tips… it is funny that our most recent would not have worked.
although the first few months were safe, especially with a story involving nalistic mission or something like that.” we obtained in november 2008, showing piece, the last one we did on collusion and aG: at la Presse, they were on the same
mostly filled with background work, organized crime. due to the immense size and success of that many big construction companies price fixing (it might be the one that had story, but through other contacts and other
meetings with sources and taking notes, it “We are always careful with sources of the story, radio-canada went even further were talking to each other to fix the price the biggest impact because it became a angles. We did share, we talked to each
didn’t take long for radio-canada execu- course, but now there is a matter of danger, to back the investigation by creating a special of the bids. one of these businessmen was theme during the municipal elections) was other, which is really rare in this ‘milieu’ of
tives to realize Gravel and denis had an we are getting into the Mafia and price fix- investigative unit within enquête known more interesting than the others. and the original story of the document. it paved competition.
important story of public interest. The ing, it is not fun,” said denis. as the “construction taskforce.” a story that investigating his case led us to fédération the road.
two received more resources, including even though protecting their sources began with two people now employs six full- des travailleurs et travailleuses du Québec aK: You kept your legal department pretty
producers and researchers in the expand- from harm was critical, they also had to time members, allowing Gravel to continue (fTQ,). Through meetings with contacts, aK: how did you balance that with your busy, right ?
ing investigative team. look out for their own safety after revealing as host of enquête while he produces pieces we dug up some things on him specifically other work and how did you convince MM: Without them, we would have said
“To let Marie-Maude work almost the Mafia connection. for the news and work on the radio.
full time with us, they asked me to work “it is a question that everybody wants to denis says the investigation is more
full time on this piece and they put a lot
of means on that and a lot of support,
ask us and we chose to not be cocky and
say ‘we were not threatened,’” she says.
difficult to tell because some sources are
reluctant to come forward, afraid of the
“It took a long time before we started telling our colleagues
encouragement, everything; they pushed Though they received indirect threats consequences, and it’s a challenge keeping what we were working on. It had to remain confidential at the
us a lot,” says Gravel. through messages, both still feel safe. it the story relevant.
as the story grew and more prominent also helped that their competitors were “The real challenge now is to keep the au- beginning. We are always careful with sources, of course. But
names surfaced, a major challenge for also working on the story. dience interested in those matters,” she says.
Gravel and denis was keeping the story “it would be crazy to do something. it however, the story never would have now there is a matter of danger. We are getting into the Mafia
quiet at the office. Protecting their sourc-
es was a concerted effort, forcing them
would be the spark for a public inquiry,”
said Gravel, who was more concerned
been possible if they weren’t given the most
important element needed for investigative
and price fixing. It is not fun.”
to develop creative ways to discuss the with how his family dealt with the expo- work: time. —Marie-Maude Denis, reporter, Radio-Canada
story when they were in public. “We have sure than threats he might have received. “We could never have done this story if
codes,” says denis, about a system that “it is more difficult for my wife because we did not take a lot of time to go talking,
being very broad about the subject before and we were told to look into the fTQ. radio-canada to support you? a lot more but we would have been more
being more specific on stuff,” says denis. Then alain and i started meeting with MM : We did not have to convince them vulnerable. everything that went on air was
“We did not have the pressure that it had to people. much cause this story was always going double-checked by the law department and
Investigative Reporting Tips: our great lawyer. We had lot of arguments
work on the first shot because it would not forward. There were always new elements.
have worked.” aK:What about this first document ? i was in the newsroom so they had to with her.
• Take time to build relationships with sources. It helps establish trust
Gravel attributed radio-canada’s MM : it is from a source that i’ve known replace me. aG: They were there but our bosses were
and allows them to open up and share more.
commitment to a renewed competition for many years. aG: for two or three months, we only did there too, they had the courage of saying
• Communication ensures correct information is being shared among among Montréal’s news culture, pointing alain: one day, Marie-Maude came from background work, meeting a lot of people, “We go”. in some part of the stories where
team members and with sources. to investigative work being carried out the newsroom, we did not know her. We just hearing, taking notes… and our bosses the lawyer or others said “it is a bit risky,”
• “Two heads work better than one.” When working on a large investiga- by la Presse, The Gazette, le devoir and did check the document and it was a kind saw very quickly the importance and the jean Pelletier, the boss here, analysed every-
tion, having another person helps share the work and allows for some rue frontenac, an online publication run of a start of something. impact of the story. They pushed us a lot. thing and said “okay, but we go, because it
distance from the story to gain perspective. by le journal de Montréal’s locked-out MM: Yes, it was not crystal clear. MM: it is important to mention that we is of public interest to go on air.”
reporters. but even though there is a re- aG: but everything was there. could never have done this story if we did
• Distribute roles in the team according to strengths and weaknesses.
newed optimism in the city, denis stresses MM: but at that time, we did not know not take a lot of time talk, being very broad aK: how quiet did you have to keep this
• Focus on moving the story forward. Keep it relevant. that more effort is needed. “The other the exact meaning of that, because we were about the subject before being more specif- story, within this office ?
media have to invest in this.” M not aware of all we discovered afterwards. ic. When you have a deadline, people don’t MM: it took a long time before we started
continued on page 14
12 media Winter 2010 13
continued from page 13
No anonymous sources
telling our colleagues what we were work- pieces for the news programmes. i can go far as we can and to keep digging. We real-
ing on. it had to remain confidential at on radio and the ultimate goal is to work ise the financial impact, but we also realise The Telegraph-Journal has eliminated the practice.
the beginning. We are always careful with together to share our experience… it hap- the social impact with all these people get-
sources, of course. but now there is a matter pened from our work. ting threatened because they just wanted to But is it a good idea?
of danger. We are getting into the Mafia and MM: We have to keep bringing some new do their job. it is a real risk nowadays and
price fixing. it is not fun. We are not very stuff. the only way to fight that is to make the
scared for us, but our sources are more in the
shadow. so we learnt how to be very careful.
aG: but at the same time, we need to take
MM: it was quite strong what we put
facts public, and then it is up to the govern-
ment to react. a n assassin squats
silently behind a
large bush. he scans
aK: have you been threatened ? on air. We don’t want to come back with aK: is it kind of injecting new life in your the field through his JUST SAYING NO TO
MM: it is a question that everybody wants something very small. career ? viewfinder and focuses ANONYMOUS SOURCES:
to ask us. We had a couple of indirect mes- aG: “enquête” has existed for three years. on his target. he car- “Implementing an idea
sages aK:how did you distribute your roles ? We did nice reports, too. i worked on the Catharine Tunney
ries only his weapon like this is not easy. It’s
and a longstanding
is a second-year not something I can
journalism stu- vendetta. it weighs
simply post on a wall.
“What is very interesting is that from this investigation, [Ra- dent at Carleton heavily on his chest
It’s a collegial process,
University. as he slowly counts to
dio-Canada] decided to form a unit around us and around the ten. he closes his eyes, it’s not antagonistic, it’s
breathes in deeply and, in one swift move, not me versus them.”
magazine ‘Enquête.’ They sent us two other persons from the pulls the trigger.
TV newsroom, two from the radio. Now we all work together.” Police officers will never find a body.
There is no blood. no bullets. The victim
—Neil Reynolds on the
—Alain Gravel, reporter, Radio-Canada walks away without physical harm, but the
policy against the use of
damage has been done.
The assassin uses words as his weapon. anonymous sources.
aG: We don’t want to think too much aG: We shared our notes and talked to piece about Genevieve janson (to read that he’s what some journalists would call an
about that. for me, it is more difficult for each other. piece, please see the page 18 of the Winter anonymous source. ymous sources under any circumstance.” ber by the paper about hydro-Québec’s
my wife because she is not involved. (The MM: it is not easy to work as a team 2008 edition of Media). here, it is some- “They are basically sniping from cover,” “for the Telegraph-journal,” says Tait, “it proposal to buy nb Power before it was
issue) is so public and we are so many because a journalist is by definition a bit thing else. it is big. it gives a new sense of says david Tait, an assistant journalism was a case of you get burned once, you’re announced were based on a government
journalists (that) it could be crazy to do of a loner. and we are sharing sources and the work. professor at carleton university. cautious. You get burned several times you document, not anonymous sources.
something. it would be the spark for a contacts. it is hard. but for me it proved to MM: i was on the crime beat. i liked it a lot The use of anonymous sources has basically don’t go near the stove.” reynolds hopes the no-anonymous-
public inquiry. These people, they know be a super positive experience to work as a and i took the job because nobody wanted played an important role in one of the still, the controversy goes much deeper sources rule will help the paper regain
that they have to be careful, not to push team on such a complicated thing because to do that. i had fun doing that and it led most spectacular mea culpas in the recent than the Telegraph-journal. back in the credibility with its readers.
too much. we both gathered information and we me to here. but i feel now, after a year history of canadian newspapers. days of Watergate and “deep Throat,” “credibility is all that newspapers have
shared and organised everything. working on this story, that i am welcomed nearly a month after implying in a anonymous sources added an air of trench- left really. The internet, the television,
aK: does the story keep growing? You are aG: and our bosses saw that at the begin- in the small community of investigative front-page story that the Prime Minister coat romance and respectability to the we’re at the end of the timeline on the
still working on it? ning: a young pretty woman with the old journalists… i am really happy to take this stephen harper had desecrated a com- profession. but in an era of bloggers, spin delivery of news. The one thing that we
aG: now we have a big unit. at the begin- guy. and it also diluted the pressure. i new challenge. You are never too young munion host at a state funeral in july, the and dwindling circulation, journalists face can do better than anybody else, if we try
ning we were two, and then we were six.. think it was a good way of working. and or old to do investigative journalism. it is Telegraph-journal printed a front-page a more troubling question: is the increas- hard, is that we can be more accurate, more
What is very interesting is that from this for the public, too. i am in the middle of about a kind of personality. either you have apology, admitting that editors had inserted ing use of anonymous sources robbing fair and therefore more respected,” says
investigation, they (radio-canada) decided something really important, i think it is it in you, or you don’t. Without alain’s information into the original story. The newspapers of their last trump card – their reynolds.
to form a unit around us and around the one of the first times of my carreer (30 experience, i never could have done it. paper fired the editor and suspended the credibility and authority? “it’s something i believe in personally
magazine “enquête.” They sent us two years of journalism) where i have a real aG: she is a very good journalist… publisher. as an editor, as a journalist. The use of
other persons from the Tv newsroom, two feeling of being able to change something, When neil reynolds was named editor- New rules for the Telegraph- anonymous sources leads to error, and
from the radio. now we all work together. clearly. i am a loner and a bit of a cynical aK:is it still possible to make investigative at-large at the saint john, new brunswick, Journal frankly, lazy reporting. i believe in making
We are a “construction taskforce” inside journalist. but on that, we are almost in the journalism in a period of crisis ? paper in september, he used a front-page The paper’s stories require a name and journalism harder. newspapers should
the investigative unit. i am still attached to middle of a journalistic mission. MM: We have to. other media have to commentary to state the paper’s intention a title for all sources before going to print. set a high standard for reporters and set
“enquête” as a host, but i can make short MM: We have the responsibility to go as investigate in this. M to avoid publishing “stories based on anon- reynolds says stories printed in novem- constant challenges as a reminder that a
continued on page 16
14 media Winter 2010 15
continued from page 15
good story is hard. There’s no easy day.” cal writer for The Globe and Mail. “it’s one he points to the manipulation of the do with us. it’s a killer to the journalists, silverman says political blogs in the u.s. everyone’s blessing. until they describe
reynolds met with staff in Moncton, of the frustrations of the job. it’s evolved u.s. government before the iraq war to and it’s a killer to the business as whole.” have been willing to go with stuff that the what happened people are not going to
fredericton and saint john to discuss the more and more that if you want the scoop illustrate his point. “They were inflaming average daily newspaper would have sat on. trust them,” says silverman referring to
ban. he says that he’s working on a formal the only way you’re going to get it is if you the public’s fear and selling the war.” he The roots “i think it’s caused some mainstream the wafer story that generated headlines
presentation on the rule and will have protect your sources.” believes people would have been more joe Klein, new York Times writer, once outlets to push further than they would after the paper reported that the Prime
more discussions about reporters and edi- she’s confident she knows whom to trust skeptical if they had known who the said “anonymous sources are a practice of have. We seem to have a riskier culture Minister put it in his pocket while at-
tors’ concerns. and makes sure to check her facts. “after sources’ identity. american journalism in the 20th and 21st in terms of what gets published and what tending the funeral of former governor
“implementing an idea like this is not years of doing this, your gut will tell you The new York Times’ policy on century, a relatively recent practice. The doesn’t.” general, romeo leblanc.
easy. it’s not something i can simply post on what makes sense and what doesn’t.” anonymous sources has changed since literary tradition of anonymity goes back to Waddell says blogs have led papers to Taber says that the Telegraph-journal’s
a wall,” he says. “it’s a collegial process, it’s christopher Waddell says that they’re the iraq war. editors must know the the bible.” believe that they have to participate in that mistakes reflect poorly on the media as
not antagonistic, it’s not me versus them.” acceptable in stories dealing with crime, source’s identity in order to verify that The tradition of anonymous sources may world, too. a whole. “anytime there is a front-page
christopher Waddell, director of journal- security and corruption, but feels that there the information. be ancient, but reynolds and like-minded Perhaps the newspapers in new bruns- retraction the cynics will say ‘oh there
ism and communications at carleton uni- needs to be enough details to assure the “The issue (of anonymous sources) is thinkers believe that the days of anony- wick need a strict no-anonymous-sources they go again.’”
versity, says “This (ban) might mean that reader that the source knows what he’s something the news media in canada mous sourced stories are nearing an end. edict to pick themselves up from the dirt. “of course, the problem for the paper
you can’t get some stories without people talking about. hasn’t really been concerned about,” says “We’re like Madonna; we’re forced to however, some critics argue that the use is that the loss of the credibility goes to
on the record. however, the principle they sometimes reporters write stories about Waddell pointing to the large stack of reinvent ourselves,” says Taber who’s start- of anonymous sources was not the paper’s the entire paper and not to the one person
are trying to establish is an important sex trade workers, drug addicts, alcoholics newspapers on his desk. “but it under- ing a new chapter of her job as the online only problem. who had the moment of bad judgment,”
principle for all journalists. an important and reformed criminals that can be touch- mines the public’s trust in the media.” political writer for the Globe and Mail. she “The fact that the Telegraph-journal says reynolds. “That’s why the entire
part of journalism is putting people on the ing. however, naming the source in print “People in journalism sometimes will now be featured heavily online. put out something that become a major paper has to try harder to set a higher
record and holding people accountable.” can disrupt their lives. Tait thinks it’s fine think it makes their stories sexier to have “The internet is where the action is. it national story that later turned out not standard in order that it not be forever
reynolds doesn’t seem worried about to omit their names in certain circumstanc- anonymous sources in it,” says craig
losing stories. es, as long as you can prove they’re telling silverman, a freelance journalist who
“i think that in most cases if a reporter the truth. writes online for the columbia journal- “Credibility is all that newspapers have left really—the Internet,
says to the Pr person that they are dealing Whistleblowers who come forward with ism review about accuracy and errors and
with ‘i need a name on this,’ generally important information are also under pres- edits the blog regrettheerror.com, which the television, we’re at the end of the timeline on the delivery of
speaking they get it.”
Waddell says that it puts sources under
sure to remain anonymous. “in the movies
that person is going to be a hero. The
catalogues the corrections and retractions
in the media.
news. The one thing that we can do better than anybody else,
pressure since the reporters at the new
brunswick paper can now tell their sources
movie ends and everyone feels good,” says
Tait. “in real life the movie doesn’t end.
“rather than having that added sex ap-
peal to the story (an anonymous source)
if we try hard, is that we can be more accurate, more fair and
that the story will not be published unless That person has a family, a mortgage and actually goes in the opposite direction. it therefore more respected.”
they identify themselves. kids in university.” makes people incredibly skeptical.”
“The bargaining relationship between “anonymous sources can enhance a story “dealing with sources is one of the fun-
the anonymous source and the reporter and they can also take credibility away,” damental things we do as journalists, it’s —Neil Reynolds, editor-at-large,
is an unbalanced one… we’ll see if it will says Waddell. “When someone makes an also fraught with difficulties and dangers,” St John Telegraph-Journal
change,” he says sipping his hot chocolate allegation you want to know who they are says silverman. “Most of the time sources
in his spacious corner office. so you can assess the allegation.” lead reporters astray by accident, although
so far, reynolds says, the papers have “i don’t think we should play into the it can be for self-interest or retribution. has changed things, it’s changed our jobs only to be not true, but that they never ex- associated with one person’s mistake.”
received names whenever they’ve asked. hands of people who have private mo- We make a lot of mistakes when we don’t dramatically but i think for the better.” plained to this day i think is a critical flaw carleton university’s dave Tait says
tives, we should know who’s talking,” says appreciate the self-interests that often drive reynolds says the idea of getting ex- to them,” says silverman anonymous sources weren’t really the prob-
Whither anonymous sources? reynolds. humans.” clusive newspaper stories based in anony- silverman says that reynolds’s ban is a lem with the Telegraph-journal.
The events at the Telegraph-journal Waddell believes that political reporting anonymous sources have a long history, mously sourced stories just don’t work in good step, but the paper has to prove itself “it wasn’t the tool itself. it’s that they
have started a national discussion about the has evolved to the point where reporters but it’s essentially dishonest in nature,” an electronic era. by implementing it. dropped that tool on their foot.”
use of anonymous sources in journalism. give members of Parliament anonymity too says reynolds. i think the (onus) should “in the days when there was only print, “They have to embrace the idea of he says he would be surprised if
for academics such as carleton’s dave frequently. be on the people who hide their identity to a government could pass on a tip and it a somewhat radical transparency to other papers followed the Telegraph-
Tait, it amounts to “hiding behind a bush “it’s their job to go on the record,” he explain why they do it.” would remain a secret for 24 hours,” says show people how they work. until they journal’s example. he believes anony-
and shooting at someone” by political says. “There is a huge amount of leeway “if you don’t trust the source then don’t reynolds. “That kind of announcement describe what happened, people are not mous sources can be a useful tool to
operatives. but to working journalists like given to people to not identify themselves use it,” says Taber. “as delicious as it might is now ubiquitously being made. all that going to trust them. What they haven’t papers that haven’t had problems with
jane Taber, it’s an essential to tool in politi- over things that are contentious.” be, don’t go there.” kind of information is being made at the done is given a clear and transparent de- their sources.
cal journalism. “anonymous sources have been used “What we’re selling as a business is same time. “(The internet) has changed the scription of what actually happened. We “(other papers) are happy to sit back and
on the hill we’re very dependent on more to protect the powerful than the trust,” counters silverman. “if someone way reporters do their job in the sense that don’t know why they did it, or why the watch,” says Waddell. “it would be hard to
anonymous sources,” says the senior politi- vulnerable,” says Tait. can’t trust us, they don’t want anything to exclusives are not really exclusives.” story ended up on the front page with make the changes and it’s easier not to.” M
16 media Winter 2010 17
Strapped for cash
employees go, and cbc axed about 800 jones was one member who publicly the awards were handed out without the
Can the Canadian Association of Journalists bounce back? positions. walked away from the caj because of actual monetary award.”
The economy is not the only reason its condemnation of cameron. even alex shprintsen and frederic Zalac
the caj has a hard time keeping mem- though she left, jones still thinks an had four others on their team. They
James Whitehead bers. Many past caj award winners organization like the caj is desperately won in the ‘open Television’ (more
only joined the organization to enter needed. than 5 minutes) category for ‘The
something for the awards. They often “There is no other organization that Taser Test.’ (www.caj.ca/mediamag/
P atricia bell heard
her name ring
out over the loud-
disarray in canada’s biggest journalism
down. The last time the caj had a
conference in vancouver was in 1999.
That conference drew more than 250
let their memberships lapse, renewing
only occasionally. sometimes it’s just
because they forget. other times, the
brings journalists together from all stra-
tas and media types in canada,” she said.
but she also expressed concern that the
said they were not concerned that they
have not yet received their award mon-
speakers. it was her Staying Afloat delegates. This year, the numbers finances just aren’t there to pay the caj is under-funded and understaffed. ey. “it’s not an issue for me,” he said,
turn. she walked Mary agnes Welch, the president of dropped almost in half, to 130. running annual $75 membership fee. robert andrew Mitrovica is a 12-time caj “by the time we divided the money up
across the hardwood the caj, admitted the process is slow. a national conference costs more than Washburn sat on the board of directors award winner. he has also let his between all of us there was so little, it
dance floor of the “every year we strive to pay the winners, $45,000. The conference ended with from 1991 to 1996, and served as chair membership lapse. he agrees that the wasn’t worth going after.” Zalac had a
James is a fourth- hotel ballroom to an like, right on the spot, but i mean the losses of roughly $10,000—not includ- for two of those years. different perspec-
year student anthem of applause. caj is an almost totally volunteer-run ing the money still owed to the award Washburn remem- tive. “it’s not a big
in the Bachelor
Most of the faces organization,” she said, “We only have winners. The caj is still paying the bers the finances as “It’s always been a struggle to make sure deal for me but it
were smiling, others one paid staff member and so sometimes hyatt regency hotel in monthly install- being a constant issue. would have been
program at the
nodded approval we just don’t have the cash to pay the ments. although he is still that we’re relevant to journalists and to appreciated if they
as she accepted the awards, like, right at that moment.” “it’s a shell game,” said dickins, “i active within the caj, had given us some
Kings College in
plaque declaring her according to Welch, 2009 has been the mean, we have to take from Peter to pay Washburn admits that raise our profile and memberships.” explanation,” he
Halifax. the winner of the leanest year in the history of the caj, Paul.” he has let his member- said, “especially if
‘scoop’ category in and the award winners are not the only ship status slip the —Mary Agnes Welch, the caj intends to
the canadian association of journal- ones owed money. Sinking membership past few years. he says continue awarding
ists (caj) awards. bell’s piece, The “This summer has been one of those Welch and dickins also said a decline part of the problem is
president of the Canadian Association of Journalists these prizes in the
nunavut business credit corporation summers where it was sort of a choice in membership is to blame for the lack that journalists are too future.”
fiasco, had won the caj scoop award between paying out our award winners of finances. independent by nature.
(a new category) and the admiration of right on time, or paying our national “it’s always been kind of a struggle to Many other journal- caj does not have the support it needs
her peers, but something was missing. staffer or paying the lawyers who do make sure that we’re relevant to journal- ists, including dickins, agree with him. to function as effectively as it should. Trying to Turn the Tide
The $500 cheque that was supposed to really, really cheap work for us when we ists and to raise our profile and to raise “journalists just aren’t joiners,” he said. “There really isn’t an ethic in the country Welch says the future of the caj is
accompany the award was gone—ab- intervene in big court cases,” said Welch. our memberships,” said Welch. dickins also agrees that raising money to support the caj by major news orga- still up in the air, but there are some
sconded by the caj’s strangled budget. “We have had to make some unpleasant currently the caj membership sits has always been a problem for the caj. nizations,” he said. changes being considered.
bell was not the only award winner decisions about who gets paid first.” at 1,272 journalists across canada. The he has been with the organization for 11 There is a general tolerance for the “We are maybe at the point now where
the caj was unable to pay. all four- caj executive director john dickins is highest number in 30 years was 1,499 years. he said finances have been getting financial plight of the caj among the the twice-yearly mega conference at a
teen of the other award winners would the only paid member of the organiza- members in 2006. Part of the problem tighter lately. 2009 award winners. steve buist won in pricey hotel is kind of a thing of the
have to wait as well (You can read tion’s staff. he’s now working part-time has been the economic difficulties fac- the ‘open newspaper/Wireless ser- past,” she said, “so we’re thinking about
their accounts of how they got their because the caj’s cash flow is insuf- ing the journalism industry. Melinda The Stevie Cameron Affair vice’ category for his piece ‘a Pig’s Tail.’ more innovative ways to try and bring all
stories in the special online edition of ficient to support him full-time. Part dalton won the 2009 award in the another major blow to the caj was (www.caj.ca/mediamag/don_McGilli- of our training right into newsrooms.”
Media www.caj.ca/mediamag/cover_ of his job is writing the cheques for the computer assisted reporting (car) the stevie cameron affair in 2003. vray_09.htm) The caj press release an- The plans are still in the discussion
page_09.htm). award winners. category along with Tamsin McMahon When cameron was accused of being nouncing the award winners stated that, phase and big conferences are still the
following the May 2009 caj annual “People call me saying, ‘have the for their piece ‘impact (news.therecord. too close to an rcMP investigation, “The winning entries in each of the reality. Welch says she hopes things will
conference, executive director john cheques gone out yet?’ and i have to say, com/specialsections/section/impact).’ the caj condemned her actions in a categories received $500.” buist thought pick up soon.
dickins sent an email to the award win- ‘no, but they are coming, trust me, they dalton was laid off from her position at news release. Many caj members were it was odd not to get the money right dickins is also optimistic. “it’s a
ners apologizing for the delay in send- are coming,’” he said. the Waterloo record shortly after and outraged. some journalists even left the away. tough time but i think we’re gonna
ing the prize money. he assured them dickins also said the caj lost a lot has since been rehired. organization out of loyalty to cameron. “i’ve been fortunate to have been nom- come through it,” he said. in the mean-
that the money was on its way. The of money on the 2009 conference in and she is not alone. in the last others felt the caj had been too harsh. inated for a number of different things time, the 2009 award winners will have
delay in delivering the $5,000 in award vancouver. fundraising didn’t bring year cTv laid off 105 employees, most ‘censorship’ was the term used by sev- and i’ve been to different ceremonies,” he to satisfy themselves with promises that
money is a symptom of the financial in enough money, and attendance was of them in Toronto. canwest let 560 eral of cameron’s supporters. deborah said, “and it was a little bit unusual that their money is on its way. M
18 media Winter 2010 19
On the road to oblivion
buyers. included are the calgary herald, high quality news and analysis, like The enough to support quality journalism.
the edmonton journal, the Montreal new York Times, The Wall street journal if, as the economy picks up, traditional
Gazette, The ottawa citizen, the regina and The Globe and Mail.” media companies are unable to provide
leader-Post, the saskatoon starPhoenix, canadians with news and information of
Will dedicated journalists and citizens groups the vancouver Province, The vancouver An unpredictable future high quality, what then? if corporate media
try to save the country’s news industry? sun, the victoria Times colonist, and The some of the world’s leading media manage to develop a new model that al-
Windsor star. no matter who acquires experts say they don’t know what the lows them to make reasonable profits, will
Nick Fillmore the papers, the most important question future holds for traditional journalism. they restore their news departments to the
is whether the diminished economic reali- chris elliott, managing editor of the u.K. levels of a year ago? The history of media
T he long-antici-
of the asper family’s
ties will allow the new owners to restore
the papers’ editorial departments to their
previous levels of operation.
Guardian, which operates the world’s
most successful news website, said in an
e-mail message that he doesn’t know how
cutbacks in canada shows that once jour-
nalists have been let go, they’re not usually
replaced, even when companies become
canwest Global media much quality journalism will be possible. highly profitable.
empire—which in- A decades-long drop “i think we will just need to have a lower
cluded 11 daily news- of all our traditional media, we should cost base for many years while the revenue The rise of citizen journalism
papers, the Global Tv be most concerned about the future of models re-calibrate. When Woodward and With media companies unable to pro-
Nick Fillmore is a network of 11 sta- daily newspapers because they’re the source bernstein broke Watergate in 74/75, the vide the news we need, and not knowing if
freelance journal- tions, 13 specialty Tv of most of our news, even the news that’s [Washington] Post had 320 journalists. Two they’ll rebuild their news services, i believe
ist and media channels, and more available from dozens of internet sites. un- years ago it had 90, now it has around 60 i that the time is ripe for journalists and
fundraiser based than 80 websites—in fortunately, the decline of daily newspapers believe. i think that says it all.” groups of people to explore setting up in-
in Toronto, He october 2009 was the in canada is mirrored in expensive, indepen-
can be reached latest development in
at fillmore0274@ the shameful history Goodbye to all that: The future of the once-powerful media company remains uncertain. Photo: Nathan
their declining circula-
tion. This falling off of The most important question is whether dent media outlets
that could provide
rogers.com of corporate-owned
media in canada.
Denette/THE CANADIAN PRESS.
values of corporate-owned media are lish or broadcast. surprisingly, columnists
sales didn’t coincide with
the growth of internet
the diminished economic realities will their communities
with quality news
canwest and other media corpora- quite different from the values and inter- and commentators are more timid when use—as a matter of fact, allow the new owners to restore the and information.
tions claim to care about quality journal- ests of the majority of canadians. just one it comes to expressing their real opinions it began almost 60 years non-profit media
ism, but they’ve deceived canadians for example: during november, a number of on important issues. They spend a lot of ago. research carried out papers’ editorial departments to their outlets could provide
decades—censoring news to protect their newspapers gave page after page over to time speculating on what some politician
profits, pandering to the interests of the business experts chattering about the vari- may, or may not, do, in terms of strategy,
by Kenneth Goldstein
of communications previous levels of operation. an alternative to
corporate world, and neglecting to invest ous burps of the financial markets, while a instead of saying what’s important for the Management inc. of media and their
adequately in their news operations. landmark report that one-in-10 canadian public about a particular development. Winnipeg shows that right-wing bias.
The canwest cuts are the largest ever children live in poverty was covered in one during the 1950s the number of newspaper a huge unknown factor is whether People from all backgrounds – uni-
carried out by a corporate media com- story in most papers, with no follow-up. The end days of corporate- subscriptions exceeded the number of ca- traditional media companies will be able to versities, faith-based organizations,
pany in canada. While many people lost When media outlets give little attention owned media nadian households. last year, the equiva- obtain large amount of money from charg- labour organizations, community groups,
their jobs or had their pensions reduced, to an issue such as child poverty, they’re but times in the media world are chang- lent of only 35 per cent of households had ing for website content. various marketing journalism schools—could work together
about 20 top executives received bonuses abandoning one of their vital roles—help- ing. The stranglehold corporate media has paid subscriptions www.journalismproject. schemes are being developed that allow in- to create new, exciting media projects.
of about $490,000 on average in addition ing protect the rights of those in society had on the news is changing, too! cor- ca/en/attachments/KG-cMi-remarks- ternet users to get the first few stories free, several ideas—ranging from inexpensive
to their already substantial salaries www. who are powerless to protect themselves. porate-owned media, particularly the news- cna-May2109.pdf. but then they’d have to pay per article at a “mini-newspapers” to internet-based
rabble.ca/news/2009/10/canwest. paper sector, is struggling financially and roger Parkinson, a former publisher certain point. The editor of The financial projects—will be discussed in my articles
for decades powerful media corpora- Watching what they say is losing readers. because of severe budget of The Globe and Mail, said in an e-mail Times in the u.K., lionel barber, predicts at www.rabble.ca in january. They will
tions like the aspers have taken advan- self-censorship among journalists is a cutbacks, most newsrooms across the coun- exchange that daily papers are in financial that “almost all” news organizations will deal with the importance of news sites
tage of their privileged position by decid- serious problem that has become worse try are operating with far fewer resources, trouble because the traditional for-profit be charging for online content in less than being run by independent groups, how
ing what news canadians should read, in recent years and, to a large extent, can and it’s showing. at the same time, the media model is broken. he said the costs of a year.www.guardian.co.uk/media/2009/ inexpensive and effective news sites can be
hear, and see. Too often this involves fil- be attributed to the conservative position internet is becoming the preferred source newsprint, printing, and paper distribution jul/16/financial-times-lionel-barber established, and how groups can pay for
tering out and even censoring stories that of corporate-owned media. in particular, of news for a growing number of people. are too expensive in light of the reduced if barber is right, and if there aren’t these sites.
are critical of advertisers, that go against reporters who are fearful of being accused Meanwhile, the fate of 10 former revenue expectations. The papers with the too many news outlets that continue to editor’s note: The first two full
generally accepted corporate values, or of being left-wing or of blemishing their canwest daily papers—which could be best chance of surviving, Parkinson said, give away information for free, tradi- articles upon which this piece is based
that criticize the rich and powerful. reputation with managers, are careful not considered the backbone of daily journal- are “very high quality national papers with tional media companies will be able to can be accessed on rabble.ca at: rabble.
by reading just about any canadian to violate corporate media’s unwritten ism across much of the country—is in the a thin, high demographic, highly educated tap into additional revenues, but it’s still ca/news/2009/12/canwest-latest-media-
daily newspaper it’s easy to see how the code concerning what’s acceptable to pub- hands of creditors who are looking for audience who want and need specialized, too soon to say if those revenues will be giant-exploit-news-operations. M
20 media Winter 2010 21
Whither investigative Journalism?
Experts gather at the University of King’s college to discuss
investigative journalism’s place in the new media universe
Nicole Feriancek RECOGNIZE
T he fate of tradi-
tional media and
the shape of media to
journalists are no longer the “gatekeepers
of information”. The next generation of media
is online, immediate and open to anyone. This
est. newsrooms are shrinking every year,”
honderich said. “everyone is looking for that
elusive business model to move us forward.”
2009 MICHENER AWARD
CALL FOR ENTRIES
come has become The shift from print to online is having a profound as if to echo what he said, two months
issue for the journalistic impact on the quality of journalism. after the october event at King`s, the star e Michener Award
community in canada. “online sources rarely choose to dig announced that 166 staffers had accepted
it’s being debated in deep or launch in-depth investigations. as buyouts and that nine more unionized recognizes excellence in public
is a second- year
newsrooms, classrooms, newsrooms shrink, so too do the journalists employees were being laid off. interest journalism. If you
and increasingly in large necessary to do journalism.” Kevin cox, managing editor of the online
gatherings called specifi- business newspaper allnovascotia.com ar-
believe your news organization
student at King`s.
She originally cally for the purpose. Pushing to get at the truth gued that the quality of journalism is more MICHENER-DEA provided reporting and
FELLOWSHIP analysis on an important
wrote this as an one such event was fourth-year King’s journalism student important than the way it is delivered.
assignment for held at the university of Kathleen hunter says that serious journal- “content is King!” he said. “There is no
her reporting King’s college in octo- ism is incredibly important. general model to replace newspapers. We are CALL FOR APPL public issue during 2009,
class. ber. students, academics, “journalists act as the voice of the people still fighting the battle. The information has enter the awards today. Visit
media managers, report- and they need to keep pushing and pushing to be unique and has to be engaging.”
online for deadlines on entry
ers and members of the public came together to get at the truth,” said hunter. “We need to honderich discussed a number of viable
for the seventh annual joseph howe sympo- protect investigative journalism because with- options for the future direction of journal- fellowship encoura submissions. Entry deadline
in investigative jou
sium, organized by King’s school of journalism. out it so much slips by and is never told.” ism including government funding, tax in-
is February 19, 2010.
The crowd was treated to a lively day of de- honderich highlighted the Toronto centives and innovative organizations such If you’re a
bate and discussion about the very survival of star’s 2002 “racial profiling” investigation as ProPublica, a foundation-funded online the public interest.
ith an issue
the news business. Perhaps the most sobering as an example of the importance of quality investigative newsroom in the u.s. mature journalist w
u’d like to spend fo
message came from john honderich, the for- investigative newspaper journalism. but the point he stressed was that
mer Toronto star publisher who now chairs The three-year investigation cost mil- regardless of the future business model of yo
the board of parent company Torstar corp. lions and required a “significant allocation journalism, serious, thought-provoking, investigating with ﬁ
support from the fe
“The debate and discussion as to what of journalists and costs”, but resulted in the investigative journalism must continue.
should be done in canada must flourish exposure and ultimately decline of racial “We should be very demanding of what we
now,” he told more than 300 people. “if it profiling within the city of Toronto. expect from our media,” he said. apply today. Visit o
doesn’t, i believe the very quality of democ- “stories and reactions like this; it just “if the media don’t function well, a soci-
February 19, 2010
racy could be at play.” doesn’t get any better,” he said. “The impact ety can suffer.”
of this type of story never dies.” for hunter and others about to enter the
A changing industry newspapers, unlike online blogs, still battle as the newest generation of journal-
since the height of newspaper journal- have significantly more resources. With ists, it’s a question of adapt or die. “i’d like
ism in the 1980s, the industry has faced more money and more journalists, news- to think i could still practice old-school
shrinking circulation and a plunge in papers can probe into the depths of society, journalism, but i feel like that’s not totally
advertising revenue as key products such “providing the means for a population to an option,” she said.
as the classifieds have moved online. all of examine itself,” he said. The symposium, which also featured for-
this has been made worse by the recession. “The quality of public debate, if not the mer new York Times futurist Michael rogers
“More and more people are switching to very quality of life in any community, is in my and donna logan of the canadian Media
the web, where websites and blogs flood the view a direct function of the quality of media.” research consortium, came up with 10 ideas
space with up-to-date news and commen-
tary,” honderich said. “and they do it for free.”
but many believe the future is going to be
online. “newspapers have been hit the hard-
for change for 2010, posted at futureofnews.
w w w. m i c h e n e r a w a r d s . c a
22 media Winter 2010 23
The back story
Who’s watching the federal stimulus? plug-in for the firefox web browser called
firebug which shows the stream of data
that flows between a browser and a server.
Why the government chose to provide
only ranges and not exact values is unclear.
but without the exact value of the federal
When they found a match, they entered
a project id code into a Microsoft excel
spreadsheet so we could link the location to
The job fell to Glen McGregor, Steve Maher This allowed us to identify the file that money flowing to each project, it was im- the dollar value.
the Google Map was using to store all the possible to say which ridings were getting We also put our list from the Google
and students from Algonquin College project points. the most stimulus money. Map into a very rough online database for
We downloaded this file and pulled from the students to use (www.sushiboy.org/
Glen McGregor it the list of project numbers with their ex- Following the money search_old.php). The students could search
act latitude and longitude coordinates. This The government does not publish a using distinctive keywords that appeared in
i f you pay taxes to
the united states
data, however, did not include any detail
about the projects. That information was
stored in separate web pages that are called
detailed list of its stimulus projects. some
information could be found in news re-
leases used to trumpet individual projects.
project descriptions to speed up the match-
over two weeks, the students matched
details of how your up by clicking the Google Map. in other instances, media relations units in projects one by one, based on descriptions
money is spent on using a programming language called certain departments provided partial lists; and approximate locations. it was an exact-
economic stimulus is Python, we wrote a simple computer script still, in other cases, there was virtually no ing and tedious job. When the students’
easily accessible on the to take each one of these project numbers publicly-available records. work was compiled, the final result was our
Glen McGregor is internet. The website and robotically download the associated The building canada website contained “nirvana” list of more than 4,000 infra-
a national affairs recovery.gov (www. web page off the government’s web site—a the most comprehensive data: Province-by structure projects. it contained the data
reporter with the recovery.gov/Pages/ process called “web scraping.” -province listings for about 4,000 infra- the government could not or would not
Ottawa Citizen. home.aspx) gives a our script took several hours to scrape structure projects representing more than provide—the project descriptions, dollar
comprehensive ac- every page and extract details about the about $8-billion in federal spending for values, exact locations and party affilia-
counting of every dollar of the billions the projects. We then had a file with a full list work such as upgrading sewer mains, pav- tions of the members of Parliament who
obama administration is shoveling out the of projects with their exact locations resid- ing highways, overhauling waterworks and represented them.
door to boost the u.s. economy. ing on our hard drive. next, we had to put renovating buildings. These data showed that ridings held by
but in canada, journalists, politicians each project into a riding. although these lists gave exact amounts conservative MPs received an average of
PLAYING POLITICS WITH STIMULUS: Minister of Transport, Infrastructure and Communities, John Baird,
and the taxpayers are still waiting for fielded many questions in the House of Commons regarding stimulus money allocation. Photo: Adrian a mapping program called arcGis allowed of government spending and descriptions $32.8 million in infrastructure spending,
the same degree of disclosure about the Wyld/TCPI/THE CANADIAN PRESS. us to overlay all the projects we had down- of the projects, they had only the name of about $9 million more than in opposi-
unprecedented wave of federal government of the halifax chronicle-herald followed its federal budget or, its preferred label the loaded onto a map of canada’s 308 electoral the city or town to help us locate them. tion ridings. We noted that the figure was
spending on stimulus projects such as $322-million in stimulus spending in nova “economic action Plan” (actionplan.gc.ca). districts provided by elections canada (www. These could be easily matched to ridings skewed because funding announcements in
hockey rinks, sewer mains, road repairs or scotia. The site featured an embedded Google elections.ca/content.asp?section=cir&dir=ma in rural areas, but not in larger cities that Quebec, where most seats are held by op-
college campuses. Maher pieced together press releases, data Map dotted with more than 6,000 stimulus ps&document=index&lang=e). The software cover more than one riding. position MPs, were delayed by municipal
The details the government has pub- from the provincial government and other projects. We realized that the government figured out the rest and gave us a neat list of We were left with one list of exact loca- elections across the province. (“The ottawa
lished so far are either vague or incomplete. published information to determine which had done the hardest part of the work for projects, each placed in a federal riding with tions and approximate values and another of citizen_dangling for dollars.pdf”)
even the parliamentary budget officer, the ridings were receiving the benefits—a pains- us by assigning a location to each stimulus the name and party of the MP. exact values and approximate values. With- outside of Quebec, the difference be-
federal spending watchdog, has been frus- taking job that took him several weeks. project and placing it on the map. This new data showed that conservative out any common field between the two data tween conservative and opposition ridings
trated by the slow pace of details coming Maher’s analysis showed an uneven dis- if we could extract the coordinates for ridings were getting about 57 per cent of the sets, the only way to link them was through was about $3.3 million per riding. We left
from the government. tribution of stimulus money: three conser- each project, it would be easy to figure out large value stimulus projects, even though a tedious process of manual matching. it to readers to decide whether these differ-
opposition MPs says the harper govern- vative ridings in the province, including one which riding it fell in, and the government the Tories hold fewer than half the seats. ences indicated political pork-barreling or
ment has reason hide the information. The held by defence Minister Peter MacKay, couldn’t quibble with our analysis because Maher and i spun out several more stories Algonquin to the rescue mere happenstance.
liberals either accuse the conservatives of took in more money than the eight other it would be based entirely on their data. based on these numbers we’d assembled, Maher approached david McKie of The students are using the material
using this stimulus money for pork-barrel- ridings held by liberal and ndP MPs. The challenge was to pull the stimulus published simultaneously in the ottawa cbc’s investigative unit (and editor of for their own stories. one student spent
ling, enriching ridings held by its own MPs, after his story ran, we discussed applying projects off the Google Map and into a da- citizen and the halifax chronicle-herald. Media magazine), who teaches a class in several days photographing local infra-
or starving opposition ridings. The Tories his analysis to stimulus spending across the tabase we could analyze. There was no way our results were limited by the data pro- computer-assisted reporting at algonquin structure projects sites in the ottawa area
insist the money is distributed fairly in country. we could manually click on every point on vided for each project on the Google Map. college in ottawa. McKie quickly assem- to document their state of comparative
consultation with provincial and municipal at first glance, the job seemed enormous. the map and download each project listing. rather than give the exact dollar value of bled a team of ten student volunteers. inaction.
governments. every single stimulus project would have to seeking advice, i posted a message on a every project, the so-called economic ac- We broke the list of 4,000 building algonquin students are now working to
in the absence of comprehensive govern- be located and assigned to a federal riding. listserv run the u.s.-based national institute tion Plan website offered only ranges for its canada projects into smaller chunks and put the data we assembled online at http://
ment information, the job of finding out Plowing through the list of thousands of for computer-assisted reporting (nicar). contributions projects on its maps: under divided the work among the students. They stimuluswatch.webcitybeat.com. The goal
exactly where the money is going falls to projects would take weeks—even months. The listserv is a great resource for anyone $100,000; between $100,000 and $1 million; matched the description of each project on is to make public the kind of information
journalists. in october, my Parliamentary looking for a shortcut, we turned to the doing computer-assisted reporting. between $1 million and $5 million; and the list to a description of the projects we that is freely available in the u.s. but still
Press Gallery colleague, stephen Maher website the government created to promote several list members suggested using a more than $5 million. pulled from Google Map. hard to get in canada. M
24 media Winter 2010 25
Making sense of science topics will be already prepared or issued
within 24 hours.
develop its own visual library, which
would include stock photos, b-roll and
digital animations and graphics, pos-
endar of scientific meetings across can-
ada, sorted by date, location and topic,
with hot links for further information.
With issues such as H1N1 becoming more prominent in our coverage, Experts on tap sibly done in co-operation with commu- also listed will be key international
The centre is compiling a database of nity college courses. meetings at which canadian researchers
a new centre will help journalists put the pieces together researchers from each region of canada are presenting newsworthy findings.
with hands-on expertise in all fields, a Journalism 101 for scientists This list of services arose from con-
Peter Calamai willingness to respond quickly to media The centre will offer scientists the sultations in 2008 across canada with
inquiries and a demonstrated capacity for chance through workshops to under- journalists and other stakeholders as
f or journalists to-
day the struggle
to get it right and
plain-language explanations. journalists
pursuing stories on their own initiative
can reach the centre 24-7 with requests
stand how the media think and operate,
warts and all. such workshops by the
u.K. science media centre have proven
part of a feasibility study by halifax
Global Management consultants. That
report and a companion financial plan
get it fast has never for details about such are available at
been more desperate. experts. Pdf files un-
With less time and
fewer resources the Media briefings
The goal of the Science Media Centre of der documents
on the sMcc
Peter Calamai job is more difficult. on demand Canada is increased public engagement website www.
freelances maga- There is help on the When a significant sciencemedia-
zine articles from horizon. after two story with a science with science through media coverage centre.ca
his home in Ot- year’s behind-the- dimension is sched- also identi-
tawa and consults scenes work, jour- uled to unfold, the of science issues that is more informed, fied on the web-
nalists are soon to
receive practical help
centre will arrange
media briefings with
more accurate and more incisive. site (under our
for the Canada
covering stories in top experts. usually the more than
which science plays these will be present- 60 institutions
a part. This means ed via a service like Webex which allows immensely popular among researchers and individuals who have helped the cen-
everything from sto- reporters in other locations to view any in britain. tre get to its current stage through $5,000
ries where science is the story—such as OUCH! The H1N1 virus generated countless stories and photos of people like Karen Joly and her four-year- slide presentations via the internet, lis- donations. some have provided more.
old son, Evan Tordorf, lining up for flu shots. Photo: Ryan Remiorz/THE CANADIAN PRESS
the discovery of a new earth-like planet ten to an audio feed and ask questions. Science 101 for journalists The centre will require an estimated
—to stories where science provides the journalism, academia, government and tor bodies. To ensure independence, no Where feasible, the centre may also use as a corollary, the centre intends to de- $1 million to $1.5 million in cash or in-
crucial factual underpinning—such as the corporate sector. similar informa- more than 10 per cent of the centre’s videoconferencing facilities at universi- velop a workshop course that explains kind donations to outfit an office and
citizen opposition to wind turbines or tion events are now being planned for regular annual operating budget can ties and research institutions across the the scientific method to non-scientists. commence operations. annual operat-
controversy over the h1n1 vaccine. other cities. come from any one source. country. a centre moderator will keep Why are researchers usually reluctant ing costs are estimated from $500,000 to
in this context “science” is shorthand The goal of the science Media centre The sMcc’s services will be available briefings on topic and concise. to provide definitive answers and how $600,000, based on the experience of the
for the natural, social and biomedical of canada is increased public engage- without charge to all bona fide jour- come science can’t say something has science media centre in australia which
sciences and also encompasses stories ment with science through media nalists, staff or freelance, without any Practical training been proven to be totally safe? is closest to the canadian model. This
dealing with technology, engineer- coverage of science issues that is more stipulation for financial support by their for journalists will support an initial full-time staff of
ing, environment and some aspects of informed, more accurate and more media employers or from them individu- an introductory workshop on handling Getting the deeper story four or five. an executive director is due
the humanities. and the help will be incisive. initially based in ottawa, but ex- ally. These services include: numbers and statistics will be the first reporting on science is as much about to be in place by january 2010.
geared to general-assignment reporters tending virtually across the country, the priority for the centre. follow-up work- coverage of complex, continuing themes a steering committee has guided
and radio and Tv producers more than centre will provide services in french A rapid-response service shops will provide tools for interpreting as it is about rapid response to break- the centre’s development so far and its
specialist science journalists. and english, respond to regional con- This is aimed at a breaking hard news more complex scientific data, especially ing news. The centre will also provide nine members are listed on the website.
That help will come from the science cerns and take a pan-canadian approach story with a science dimension, such as where competing claims exist. The work- briefings and background material The centre is now soliciting names for
Media centre of canada (sMcc) (www. to identifying and distributing the best new research into the interactions of shops may be offered on a cost-recovery to help decipher issues with differ- a formal board of directors numbering
sciencemediacentre.ca/smc/index.php sources of expertise. different influenza vaccines. Within a basis depending on funding. ing scientific points of view, such as about 16 and drawn from the media,
?itemid=55&id=46&lang=en&option= The concept of the sMcc is based half-hour of the initial media inquiry, using carbon sequestration to mitigate academic, government and corporate
com_content&view=article ), an inde- on similar science media centres already the centre will provide contact details Photos, animations, climate change or the interpretation of communities.
pendent non-profit operation that is operating in the u.K., australia and new for key experts, urls for reliable web- graphics and video pharmaceutical trials. further information is available from
federally incorporated. The sMcc was Zealand. like them, it will be funded by sites and possibly pointers to YouTube The centre intends to serve as a clear- firstname.lastname@example.org M
launched publicly oct. 2 at an event in contributions from the media, academia, channels or blogs of individual scientists. ing house for high-quality graphics al- A single science portal See page 28 for a tipsheet
ottawa which drew 100 attendees from foundations and public and private sec- Plain-language briefing notes on hot ready in the public domain. it will also The centre’s website will feature a cal- on how to make sense of science
26 media Winter 2010 27
feeds and ledes
A tip sheet to make sense of science
Search Engine Optimization
service. When editors (or fellow reporters)
have the hots for dubious “science” stories,
h ere are some examples where reporting
might have benefitted from the kinds
of services and programs that will be offered
ers at meetings outside the country.
Elementary, my dear doctor
the centre offers up recognized experts who
pour cold water on inflated claims. in cana-
da, with stories like this on the cbc website, SEO is the key to getting you noticed online
by the science Media centre of canada. one of canada’s few “big science” facili-
there’s an obvious need for a similar service.
ties is the synchrotron at the university of
not to even mention the raelians claiming
H1N1 underkill saskatchewan. as it was being commis-
to clone humans, and suckering most of the Mary Gazze
under the headline “h1n1: is it all over?” sioned in 2002, Maclean’s magazine devoted
media back in christmas 2002.
an article in the nov. 21 insight section of the a multi-page feature to explaining the costly
Toronto star declared, without attribution,
that “h1n1 was a mild form of influenza, by
machine and the wonders possible with the
intense beams of light it would generate.
Spaced-out mars rocket
on oct. 19, the ottawa citizen splashed
o ne of the first
things i saw
hanging on a wall
million times on Google each month by
people trying to get their fix. Many of
these end up on the Google news page.
store on home turf.
cnet searched up and down for the
story, with keywords including “Green
almost any measure. it will have killed just unfortunately the magazine’s writer and a story on page 1 under the headline “new
200 to 300 canadians by the time this largest when i did an intern- There are no editors at Google news, it is beans,” “coffee”, “military” and “soldiers”
editors dropped a major clanger in explaining rocket engine makes trip to Mars realistic.”
wave peters out in mid-december.” ship in the Toronto an “aggregator,” which means headlines but found no link to the story on Wsj’s
the physics phenomenon behind the brilliant The nub of the piece was that a new electri-
The facts are that 373 deaths from h1n1 sun newsroom was are automatically grouped together by website. after separating a bunch of the
synchrotron light. The article said: “by this cally powered rocket engine that shoots out
had been reported to the Public health a framed copy of keyword and subject on the news page. search terms, it was only able to come
point, the electrons are already travelling at charged particles (ions) would reduce return Mary Gazze is a
agency of canada by dec. 10, and the toll the front page from so, dear copy editors, this means that up with a version of the story pasted
nearly the speed of light, but their velocity will travel time from earth to our nearest plan- Toronto-based free-
was still rising. This is indeed small in com- september 12, 2001. unfortunately, the clever headline, your verbatim into a blog, but not the paper’s
increase tenfold….” if this were the case, the etary neighbour to less than three months lance journalist.
parison to the thousands who die each year in the aftermath of bread and butter, doesn’t always cut it own website. even including the single
world would be beating a path to saskatoon instead of a prohibitive two years. and this
from seasonal flu varieties, but not as small 9/11, The sun chose a fiery photo of one anymore. Keywords are now king. word “coffee” into the headline would’ve
since nowhere else on earth can anything go marvel was designed “partly” in canada. This
as the star painted it. ( check the current of the twin towers to grace the cover. here’s one example of clever headlines helped bring the story into Google’s
faster than the speed of light. exclusive news was imparted to students
total at www.phac-aspc.gc.ca/alert-alerte/ but the shocking photo wasn’t neces- bombing in the digital age, as picked search results, giving the searcher an
Getting such high school physics wrong at a symposium in ottawa by canadian
h1n1/surveillance-eng.php) sarily the focal point of the page. at the apart by the writers at the well-respected instant option to click on before they
cast a pall over the entire Maclean’s article, astronaut chris hatfield, who was the only
The already-developed sMcc workshop bottom, a single word headline in yellow technology website cnet (which inci- get bored and close the window. “Google
and indeed over that magazine’s reporting person quoted in the story.
on numbers and statistics will include an block letters, cried out: “bastards!” dentally, has been around for so long, its uses a complex algorithm to order its
on science generally, in the eyes of some Persistent readers who turned to the
epidemiology component with guidelines for sure, a headline like that was an domain name is www.news.com). search results, but at least yours will be
scientists. story continuation on an inside page
assessing projections such as deaths from a attention-grabber eight years ago for cnet looked at a headline in the Wall somewhere in the list.”
The sMcc’s briefing notes will cover all learned, however, that the supposedly
virus. in addition, the centre’s “experts on tap” someone struggling with a coffee and a street journal (Wsj) that read: “Green and sure, writing a headline like
of canada’s big science installations and revolutionary ion propulsion engine hadn’t
will include epidemiologists and immunolo- briefcase while choosing “Green beans coffee to open
include plain-language explanations of how yet been tested in the vacuum of space, an
gists who will independently assess trends. which paper to buy at a in u.s.” isn’t as punchy or
they work, usually with infographics. essential step known to engineers as proof
of concept. hatfield said that crucial test
newsstand, but with so So, dear copy editors… the clever intriguing, but it drives
Missed a whale of a story Combating the urge to hype many people skipping the readers to your site where
in october, the society of Marine Mam- The trials and tribulations of the large
wasn’t scheduled to take place until 2013 print versions of newspa- headline, your bread and butter, you can then hook them
on the international space station.
malogy held its biennial conference in Quebec
city. like the meetings of most scientific soci-
hadron collider in europe, have been
legitimate news for almost a year after the
space agencies are adept at stage-man-
pers and going straight
to the web, a story with doesn’t always cut it anymore. with a snappy lede and a
good story that will make
aging news under circumstances where
eties, it was open for media coverage but, also $6 billion proton-smasher fizzled on start-
reporters don’t have the time to check with
that headline would never
make it to the screens of
Keywords are now king. them want to come back to
like most society meetings, there was minimal up. but in mid-october the website of cbc
disinterested experts. This sort of develop- people typing “terror at- being led there by a Google
advance publicity. so no canadian journalists news descended from science to science
ment would probably prompt the sMcc tack, new York city” into beans comes Marching home.” anyone search.
were apparently present to report the surprise fiction with a story which proclaimed that
to arrange a media briefing that looked at a search engine such as Yahoo or Google. reading the headline might think there is seo can be especially important for
discovery that humpback whales will change “intriguing new research suggests the proj-
the cold realities of ion propulsion engines. This is where search engine opti- a grammatical error in this headline for a freelance writers. a writer with bril-
their songs if another whale sings along, a ect is doomed to fail.” finding the higgs
a valuable benefit to journalists also mization (seo) comes in (for more story about vegetables or healthy eating. liantly written copy that gets 100 clicks
phenomenon well known in songbirds. boson “might be so abhorrent to nature
arises from the growing network of science information on seo, please see sandra i know i did. a print reader can look at is probably less likely to get another
The single science meeting portal that mysterious forces are traveling back
media centres, with expertise now shared ordonez’s article on page 31). in plain, the accompanying photo and know what job versus the writer with okay writing
operated by the sMcc should ensure, at through time and sabotaging the experi-
among the operations in britain, australia nontechnical terms, this is a technique the story is about. but someone search- but brought in 1,000 clicks from Google
a minimum, that journalists know in ad- ment before it can succeed.”
and new Zealand. in the case of h1n1, for where you take popular keywords and ing online, or poking around internet because they threw in some seo terms.
vance about potentially news-making sci- Predictably, the item was titled “large
example, the pandemic peaked in austra- put them into the body of your story to headlines would never know that this Keywords aren’t as hard to include as
ence meetings. once the centre is running hadron collider goes back to the future.”
lia months ahead of europe and north help it climb to the top of a search re- story is actually about a coffee brand you might think. To me, seo is linked
at full throttle, the plans are also to check but the supposed “news” had even less valid-
america, so the australian sMc was able sults page. seo applies to all search en- named “Green beans” which served to good writing. in a story, you wouldn’t
the online abstracts of papers to be given ity than that movie, since the evidence con-
to amass considerable expert material gines, but i’ll use Google as an example. coffee to american soldiers on overseas just repeat “h1n1,” over and over until
at scientific meetings for potential gems. sisted of speculative mathematical models in
which it made available its sister agencies. The word “news” is searched about 124 military bases, and was now opening a your readers want to throw a thesaurus
as well, the sMcc might eventually flag a non-peer-reviewed paper circulated online.
newsy contributions by canadian research- continued on page 30
The u.K. sMc offers a “crap-busting” Peter calamai
28 media Winter 2010 29
continued from page 29
SEO How-To guide
at you. You would use synonyms, refer to shows that “h1n1” is searched an aver- When you scroll further down the
it as a virus, sickness, or illness. by mak- age of almost 700,000 times a month page, it even breaks down results by
ing your writing more interesting, you’re worldwide. but scroll down on the tool’s province and by most popular variant of
also increasing your searchability. results page and you’ll find that people the word:
so what are some heavily searched words are almost nine times more likely to type A cheat sheet for journalists interesting in using the technique
that you might want to include in your sto- “swine flu” into Google, as that term gets
ries? in Google’s recent annual list, the top six million global searches a month.
three words searched by canadians were When you scroll down, the page shows Sandra Ordonez
“facebook,” “Youtube” and “lyrics.” The you possible variants and looks like this:
only other words on the list
that were not about the inter-
net were “weather,” “games,”
is dedicated to
input in your search engine query that
could potentially allow you to discover
the article? alternatively, as a writer, you
areas to get an understanding of what
a piece of content is about. Targeted
keywords should be included in titles,
“map” and “canada.” and journalist students should also ask ‘what question or query bolded and/or italicized in the text, and
Yes, it is hard to put these navigate through the does my article best address?’ linked to related articles.
words into stories about some- current changes taking for example, if you are writing an article essentially, by giving this type of “special
thing completely unrelated place in the industry. on affordable restaurants in new York, treatment” to keywords, you are basically
like municipal politics. but you Sandra Ordonez as a result, when i you might pick “cheap restaurants in new telling search engines that these keywords
don’t have to. a tool meant to is the Interactive
was asked to write the York,” or “new York cheap eats.” addition- are important and reflect the main theme
help Google advertisers choose article about search ally, you could zone in on the specifics of of your article. To see an example, just pick
Manager for ourb-
successful search terms could engine optimiza- the article by focusing on the particular the first website that appears in any search
look.com. She has
help. set your browser to Google adwords’s i’ve circled the variant with the highest tion (seo) for Media neighborhood your article covers. as a result. for example, Google seo, and one
more than 10 years
keyword tool (i’ve shortened the url for search result compared to the others. of web experi- magazine, i jumped at result, you might pick “cheap restaurants of the first websites that appears is the
you: bit.ly/28xk3q). Make sure to change your by adding a few words like “h1n1, also ence and can be the opportunity. This in union square” or “union square cheap Wikipedia entry. (en.wikipedia.org/wiki/
country to canada from the default, u.s. if known as swine flu...” to your story, you are reached at sandy@ is because seo is the eats.” Generally speaking, specific refer- search_engine_optimization) This is not
you like. still using the technical terms set out by ourblook.com most important skill ences produce the best results. surprising, since wiki articles usually have
The top of the page looks like this: the World health organization, provid- journalists can acquire There are various tools available to help a lot of good content and links to various
ing more context to your readers, and also in today’s market. (Please see Mary Gazza’s you with this process, such as Google Key- related areas. notice that it’s not only the
pulling inmore possible hits from those article on seo on page 29.) word selector. (adwords.google.com/select/ search term seo that is linked, but words
six million people searching for “swine now that you understand what seo journalists find themselves having to KeywordToolexternal). The tool helps that can be considered related such as meta
flu.”Throwing in the word “virus” could means and how to use it, try it out and focus more and more on search engine you brainstorm by suggesting alternatives tags and spider.
land you 25 million more hits, while the see how it feels. but for heaven’s sake, optimization (seo). as more publications keywords, and provides you with the search Keyword density is also extremely
word “pandemic” will give you an extra keep the terms relevant. don’t be like shift their attention to establishing a stron- traffic for each keyword as well. important. Your keywords should appear
million. clearly, the words aren’t“necessary” some of those people out there who try ger online presence, seo is an intrinsic tool depending on your seo strategy, there at the beginning and end of an article, as
but are easy to include, and bring more to sneak in ridiculously unrelated key- to increasing traffic and, most importantly, are two routes you can take. You can either well as in various paragraphs in between.
search power to your story. words on their pages. “Michael jackson” building an online community. The follow- try to get a piece of the pie by focusing on however, beware of overstuffing your
another fun tool is www.google.com/ probably doesn’t belong in that story ing are seo tips and tricks that the ourb- more competitive words (your chances article with keywords, as this will be seen
insights/search/, which charts the popular- about microfinance. look.com team has created for the journal- of being listed in the first page results as spam. as a journalist, i really don’t
ity of search terms by region and date. This and if you have any complaints, let ism classes taking part in their university might be low but you can benefit from the think you’ll be at risk of creating a “spam
tool is only in beta testing, but here’s a me know: www.facebook.com/marygazze Partnership Program. (www.ourblook.com/ residual traffic that might venture to the article” because your number one priority
look at the word “recession” when searched www.twitter.com/marygazze M university-blooks.html) second page or beyond), or you could aim is to create a piece of good content. usu-
in this tool you can type in a word under “canada” as the location: to be one of the first websites listed for less ally, bad marketers are the number one
and it will give you dozens of other Identify your Keywords competitive keywords. essentially, com- culprits in this area because their number
related search words, including a list of before you begin writing, identify petitive words are those that have a high one priority is to have people land on a
how many times each variant has been the keywords that you would like to percent of internet traffic associated with particular page, and thus they pay little
searched. armed with this knowledge, optimize in your article. in other words, them, and thus are in high demand. attention to the actual content.
you’ll be better able to choose which identify words or phrases that give your
words are best for your story. article a high ranking in a search-engine Repeat and Include your Key- Pay Attention to Meta Tags
considering the massive number of query. a good technique is to imagine words in Various “Key” Places Meta tags can be regarded as private
stories on h1n1 out there, you can use that you are an internet user searching search engines are not human beings. notes that you leave for search engines. it
the tool to beef up your keyword content for the information your article provides. They read articles differently. Their spi- is your opportunity to tell them what you
to separate you from the rest. The tool What search terms or phrases would you ders are programmed to look in specific think your article is about. Your targeted
continued on page 32
30 media Winter 2010 31
The fine Print
continued from page 31
keywords should be included in the meta
title and meta description (both of which
factors to determine the weight of an article
—some which as a writer you can’t control
causes a tsunami” is in the meta title as
well as the meta description. additionally,
Social networking inside the court room
will also be seen by the public, as it is the —such as the infrastructure of the site. addi- the keywords “tsunami” and “causes” are
text that appears in search results), and the tionally, while it is important to implement listed in the meta keywords tag. Who will follow the example set by
meta keywords. however, please note that seo techniques, the most important thing is the London Free Press and the Ottawa Citizen?
only lowercases should be used in the meta to create good, informative copy. That’s what The front end
keywords section. brings people to a website. now, let’s analyze the actual text you can
see on the page. The first thing i notice is
Your code matters
besides the formatting you can give
certain keywords (bold, italics), your code
The back end
The first thing i notice is that the word
“geology” is part of the url. This is a good
that the tile of the article is “Tsunami Geol-
ogy —What causes a Tsunami?,” and is in
a h1 tag. The h1 tag is used to tell Google
c apturing the
nuances of a trial, 140
is tantamount to broadcasting a judicial
proceeding, which is prohibited under u.s.
federal court rules. australia’s federal court
reports as “phenomenal.” she garnered
more than 1,000 followers, including
bikers from as far away as australia and
can either make or break your seo efforts. start. Google likes to see words that relate that these are the most important key- characters at a time— lets individual judges decide whether to new Zealand, and some lawyers in the
that’s the challenge of permit or prohibit Twitter coverage. courtroom followed her tweets. While the
While other factors contribute to determining how well your covering the courts via
Twitter. Two journal-
a case-by-case approach is being taken
in canada. McGregor was surprised at
o’brien case was less sensational, Mc-
Gregor says he had a hard-core following
page will rank in search engine results, such as the authority an assistant
ists who have used the how readily the judge presiding over the within the federal and municipal circles of
social networking and o’brien trial accepted the citizen’s request politics-obsessed ottawa.
of a website, the aforementioned tips will provide you with a professor of
journalism at micro-blogging service to use blackberrys and laptops to file di- at key points of the trial, McGregor was
to provide running rectly from the courtroom. justice douglas posting a tweet every minute or so, providing
great start. The most important rule to remember is that the University
of King’s College commentaries on high- cunningham of the ontario superior an almost verbatim account of the evidence.
content is king. in Halifax, is
author of Media
profile trials are con-
vinced it will become a
court ruled in May that “instant text
transmission to the blogosphere … will be
“it was something closer to stenography than
journalism at times,” he says. “i was trying to
Law for Canadi- routine reporting tool. permitted so long as any texting is done in transcribe as accurately as i could what was
first, titles should always be given a <h1> tag. contextually to the particular phrase or word words in your article, and thus reflect the an Journalists. “Tweeting is an an unobtrusive way and does not affect the being said.” dubinski admits it was difficult
and edits the
second, the url of the page should include you are querying. additionally, the name main idea or summary. notice that in the instant way to get the running of the trial.” to sum up what was happening in 140 char-
law section of J-
the targeted keywords. finally, and most of the document containing the article is title, the word tsunami is mentioned twice, proceedings out there,” in the bandidos case, which took seven acters, but found she could add colour and
importantly, your pages should have a high tsunami-geology.shtml. notice that this is and that the query phrase, what causes a source.ca).
says Kate dubinski of months to complete, a court official gave depth – when a witness mentioned a firearm,
context-to-code ratio, or a high signal-to- the first mention of the word tsunami. tsunami, is mentioned once. the london free Press, dubinski the green light to blog the trial for instance, she posted a hyperlink to an im-
noise ratio. This is a fancy to way to say that i also notice the website has several additionally, the author has created sub- who covered the murder trial of six men and the judge did not make a formal rul- age of the weapon.
your page should have more text than code. characteristics that Google likes: it was titles, tagged in h2, which also contain the convicted in october of murdering eight ing. electronic devices were banned from both reporters relied mainly on their
While other factors contribute to deter- born on january 28, 1998, and thus is con- keyword tsunami. for example: ‘subduc- other members of the bandidos biker gang. the courtroom due to security concerns, laptops, finding them faster and easier to
mining how well your page will rank in sidered old; and it has a page rank of 6 and tion Zones are Potential Tsunami loca- “We were the first to get the verdicts out to but she was allowed to use her laptop to use than held-held devices. neither was
search engine results, such as the authority thus considered an authority website. as a tions’ or ‘earthquake causes Tsunami.’ the public through Twitter .... Many people file reports from an overflow room as she expected to cover the case alone. dubinski
of a website, the aforementioned tips will writer, there is little you can do about this. The paragraph text itself has the men- have told me they felt like they were in the watched the trial through a live video feed. filed tweets while a colleague, jane sims,
provide you with a great start. The most im- The next step is to view the page source or tion of the word tsunami several times, courtroom with me throughout the trial.” bringing Twitter into canadian court- filed updates to the free Press website and
portant rule to remember, however, is that code (obtained by going to the “view” section the mention of the phrase “What causes a (To read Kate’s first-hand account, please rooms is a logical extension of the media’s the daily print story. The citizen’s don
content is king. Great content will be shared on the menu, and selecting the “source” op- tsunami” once, and the mention of contex- visit j-source.) existing access rights. Many courts allow butler concentrated on the print story but
by internet users and allow you to attract tion). i notice the following meta tags: tually related words and phrases such as ottawa citizen national affairs reporter journalists to take notes using audio re- McGregor filed three to four web updates a
and cultivate a vibrant online community. seismic energy and earthquake. Glen McGregor filed more than 2,000 corders (as along as the recordings are not day, using his tweets as the raw material.
<MeTa name=”description” tweets during the two-week trial of ottawa broadcast) and on laptop computers, either McGregor says the o’brien coverage was
A concrete example content=”What causes a Tsunami - by The results Mayor larry o’brien, who was acquitted by policy or upon request. an experiment, and he’s sold on Twitter.
seo is sometimes best learned ‘in action’ Geology.com”> in total, the keywords most repeated on last august of criminal charges of influ- justice cunningham stressed his ruling With cameras barred from the courtroom,
through an example. as such, i will analyze the page are tsunami (18 times), geology ence peddling. at one point some 600 was not “a broad policy statement” of his he could report with the immediacy of live
the following article, geology.com/articles/ <MeTa name=”keywords” (10 times), plate (10 times), ocean (9 times), people were following his steady stream of court and applied only to the o’brien trial. television.
tsunami-geology.shtml, which appears in content=”tsunami causes facts geology”> tsunamis (8 times), and causes (7 times). mini-reports. “You’re basically putting your o’brien was not being tried by a jury, he “it puts print journalism back on a level
the first page of the Google organic search The phrase ‘what causes a tsunami” is notebook online in real time.” noted, and “jury trials may present a whole footing, and gave us an advantage over
result for the query, “what causes a tsunami.” additionally, the meta title of the page mentioned 6 times. While the page lacks These appear to be the first canadian set of different problems.” he did not broadcast,” he notes. and while the cbc
Keep in mind that the article may not utilize (the name that appears on the top of the a good, high context-to-code ration, ie, trials reported via Twitter. in the united elaborate and dubinski says no concerns also assigned a reporter to blog the trial for
all the seo techniques mentioned above – browser), is “What causes a Tsunami?— there is more code than text on the page, i states, journalists in Kansas and colorado were raised about live-blogging the bandi- its website, McGregor still had an edge.
and that’s okay because not all websites are Tsunami Geology—GeoloGY.coM” imagine that this overlooked because of the have been allowed to tweet trials, but a dos trial, which was heard by a jury. “Twitter is essentially a print medium,” he
the same. Google’s algorithm uses different notice that my entire query “what age and authority of the site. M judge in Georgia concluded that tweeting dubinski describes the response to her says. “This is my home turf … i type faster.” M
32 media Winter 2010 33
ing about many matters, ranging from but the reporter must show an effort to be solid sources, chasing important stories.
Journalists win one in court science and the arts to the environment,
religion, and morality.”
fair and to get both sides of the story.
• Whether the inclusion of the defama-
The court has simply taken many of the
elements of good journalism and recog-
tory statement was justifiable: The defama- nized them in law.
The defense of “responsible journalism” can be used to head off libel suits Responsible journalism tory statement must be relevant to the
now for the “responsible” part. The story, but “generous scope” should be given The expanding definition of
court formulated a list of factors (based to editorial choices made in the newsroom. journalism
on the british test) for judges or juries to • Whether the defamatory statement’s finally, the “communication” part. The
Dean Jobb consider when assessing how the story public interest lay in the fact that it was court has altered the term “responsible
n ew defences to
don’t come along every
reasonable in the circumstances.
as chief justice beverley Mclachlin
noted in one of the landmark rulings,
first, the “matters of public interest”
part. The court offers a broad definition
• The seriousness of the allegation:
The more serious and damaging the
made rather than its truth: dubbed the “re-
portage” defence, this is perhaps the most
significant facet of the ruling. it recognizes
journalism” and acknowledged the defini-
tion of “journalist” is expanding in the age
of the internet. anyone “publishing mate-
day, so what exactly do the law of defamation protects the of the kinds of stories protected under the allegation, the more diligence the media that the public may have an interest in the rial of public interest in any medium”—
the pair of supreme reputations of individuals but cannot new defence and says judges must exam- will have to show in researching and assertions and counter-charges made in bloggers included—is covered. established
court of canada trump the charter-protected rights of ine the story as a whole and not just the verifying the story. debates over important issues, regardless of journalistic practices will be used to assess
rulings handed down freedom of speech and freedom of the defamatory statement. Public interest “is • The public importance of the matter: whether the allegations are true. the conduct of “journalists and non-jour-
december 22 mean for press. in order to foster the free exchange not synonymous with what interests the not all subjects of public interest have the While the law still punishes those who nalists alike,” the court says, and standards
professor of journalists? of information vital to our democracy, public,” the court cautioned, and would
journalism at in its rulings in the law must not “demand perfection not include “mere curiosity or prurient in-
the University Grant v. Torstar corp. and the inevitable silencing of critical terest” in the private lives of public figures In essence, it grants journalists reporting on issues of public
of King’s College and Quan v. cusson, comment that a standard of perfection or celebrities.
in Halifax, is the court created the would impose.” The subject need not be of national im- importance the right to be wrong. Not completely wrong, of
author of Media defence of respon-
Law for Cana- sible communication course, but the defence will defeat a libel claim if, despite the
ists. For more
on matters of public
interest. it shifts the
The law of defamation protects the journalist’s best efforts, some facts or allegations turn out to
about the book,
focus away from what
was published or
reputations of individuals but cannot be wrong or false.
broadcast —are the trump the Charter-protected rights
facts true? is opinion same importance. stories exploring “grave repeat a libel, in this context the mes- will evolve “to keep pace with the norms of
fair comment? Were comments made of freedom of speech and freedom of matters of national security” will require senger would have a defence if 1) the new communications media.”
in the courtroom or other protected
forum?—and places it squarely on the
the press...[it] must not “demand per- more diligence to investigate than those on
“the prosaic business of everyday politics.”
statement is attributed, “preferably” to a
named source 2) the report indicates the
While defamation law and its defences
have always applied to the internet, this is
conduct of the reporters and editors who
produced the story.
fection and the inevitable silencing of • The urgency of the matter: consid-
eration will be given to the need to file
statement has not been verified 3) both significant. as mainstream media struggle
sides of the dispute are reported fairly 4) and publication shifts to the internet,
in essence, it grants journalists report- critical comment that a standard of timely reports on important events, but the context in which the statement was more professional journalists are becom-
ing on issues of public importance the mistakes made in the rush to score a made is reported. ing bloggers. The court has recognized
right to be wrong. not completely wrong, perfection would impose.” scoop might not be forgiven if a reason- This may be a boon to political report- this shift and its ruling also may encour-
of course, but the defence will defeat a able delay would have detected the error ers covering heated exchanges between age more high-quality, public interest
libel claim if, despite the journalist’s best before publication. politicians. reporting by citizen journalists.
efforts, some facts or allegations turn out “Productive debate,” she added, “is de- portance, or of interest to a wide audience. • The status and reliability of the • any other relevant circumstances: a The new defence does not give journal-
to be wrong or false. pendent on the free flow of information.” a battle over development in a rural area source: if sources are untrustworthy or catch-all provision for other aspects of the ists, bloggers or anyone else a licence to
The defence reflects how the law The defence is based on the “responsi- may be of local interest, for instance, but have an axe to grind, the reporter must story, including the tone of the article. sensa- sully someone’s reputation. The courts
treats allegations of negligence against ble journalism” defence developed in the it involves wider issues of land use and be more diligent in verifying information. tionalism or a critical tone may be appropri- will demand high standards of conduct
doctors, lawyers and other profession- british courts over the past decade. The environmental policy. in the court’s words, confidential and unnamed sources can be ate, the court noted, and writers should not and establishing the defence could be
als. They are expected to be skilled and ontario courts adopted it in 2007 but the “it is enough that some segment of the used, but the test remains whether it was be held to “a standard of stylistic blandness costly—just ask the newspapers headed
competent, but not perfect. Patients die supreme court’s rulings add refinements community would have a genuine interest reasonable to do so. …. The best investigative reporting often to trial a second time. but these decisions
on the operating table, but not every that now apply across the country. in receiving information on the subject.” • Whether the plaintiff’s side of the takes a trenchant or adversarial position on lessen libel chill and modernize laws that,
death is the result of malpractice. The let’s unwrap this post-christmas and “public interest” is not confined story was sought and accurately reported: pressing issues of the day.” for too long, have put reputations ahead
issue is how the operation was conducted present for journalists and explore how to stories about government and politics. it’s not always necessary or possible to con- it all boils down to rewarding respon- of our need for hard-hitting journalism
and whether the surgeon’s actions were it works. “The public has a genuine stake in know- tact the target of a defamatory comment, sible, ethical reporting—being fair, using on important public issues. M
34 media Winter 2010 35
its freedom to promote deliberation. in
A Free and Undemocratic press?
monologue. it is social and cooperative. a reasonable public cannot come into
sum, good journalism deliberates, and it is about listening, learning. it expects existence.
helps citizens deliberate. robust disagreement, but it also seeks Given these trends in our media ecol-
i agree with the philosopher john areas of compromise and new solution ogy what can we hope for, democratically
Good journalism helps citizens deliberate rawls that the future of pluralistic lib- democratic journalism creates delib- speaking? We can embrace a hope that is
eral democracies depends on whether erative spaces in print, in broadcast, and more modest than the cocky enthusiasm
citizens with different conceptions online that encourage this approach to of libertarians today or yesterday. it is the
Stephen J.A. Ward of life can live together in freedom public discussion. how journalists talk hope that, in the center of our chaotic,
and justice. since democracies do to their audience, frame their topics, expanding universe of media, we can
T he media revolu- in public deliberation? is this how the of ideas today? it is wishful thinking. a not accept the gather a core of
imposition of journalists will-
tion that engulfs
journalism creates a
new marketplace of ideas creates public
marketplace in any era can be distorted
and dominated. one concep- Without means of deliberation, discourse ing to practice
new marketplace of The idea that a free press necessarily Today’s dominators are not just ru- tion of life on
the entire body
can be high-jacked by loud, intolerant, democratic
ideas. new media for leads to a democratic press was dis- pert Murdoch or Time-Warner but also
sharing and con- credited a century ago with the rise of a Google, facebook, and media moguls politic, citizens and powerful voices. across all media
necting encourage mass commercial press. Throughout the steve jobs of apple and Microsoft’s bill need to identify platforms. in
Stephen J. A. Ward
is the director of a diversity of voices 1800s, the growth of the newspaper was Gates. The most popular news websites an overlapping such a world,
the Center for and lower obstacles to hailed as a sign of liberal society and a in the usa and canada belong to large consensus on and structure discussion is paramount. democratic
Journalism Ethics publication. Presum- “self-correcting” marketplace of ideas. news organizations. Globally, a dozen basic principles for running their a non-deliberative approach can be journalism acts as an ethical anchor amid
at the Univer- ably, these develop- The great liberal hope was this: just conglomerates dominate the world country, sharing benefits, protecting seen and heard on television and radio the red-faced shouting and edgy vitriol
sity of Wisconsin- ments are good for make the press free and it will be a of media, film, and similar cultural basic rights, and operating institutions. every day. it is the tired format of talk- that too often passes itself off as journal-
democracy. democratic press. an autonomous press products. Therefore, inclusive and reasonable ing heads screaming at each other. or ism in the public interest.
of Journalism and
i support freedom. will use its freedom to be a serious and in a multi-media world, a “democrati- deliberation is a fundamental quality it is the arrogant talk show host who To be honest, i do not know whether
Mass Communi- of liberal democracy. This means that frames the topic in a simplistic and this modest hope will be realized. There
i endorse diversity. independent informer for the public. zation” of the media is not identical with
cation. the quality of society’s communication provocative manner. are encouraging and discouraging trends
but i fear this opti- how disillusioned these liberals were the democratic use of media. The lovely
mism about the democratic potential when the newspapers became domi- idea of many voices connected globally and its journalism is of special impor- democratic journalism swims against in journalism. The picture is unclear. i
of new communication technology is nated by press barons such as William ignores the plain fact that our world is tance. Without means of deliberation, our increasingly non-deliberative do believe, however, that the survival of
getting out of hand. Many new media randolph hearst, when reporting not Marshall Mcluhan’s global village. discourse can be high-jacked by loud, media landscape, against the torrent good journalism depends upon sustain-
enthusiasts have become what i call became sensational, when the public a media-linked world creates great ten- intolerant, and powerful voices. of hot talk and programs that blur the ing democratic journalism, and this will
“libertarians sions among democratic citizens approach public difference between journalism and require concerted action by many.
of the net”. cultures. also, discussion in a distinct manner. The entertainment. in our time, deliberative one alternative is to embrace a re-
They think In a multi-media world, a “democratization” celebration of aim is not to simply express a view- spaces have become so scarce that they assuring belief about the almost inevita-
point; it is not about portraying those are places of refuge for citizens who ble advance of democracy, given the new
that a demo-
of the media is not identical with the a diversity of
voices online who disagree as unpatriotic enemies have tired of the ideological or empty- marketplace of ideas.
sphere requires democratic use of media. has little to who must be crushed; it is not a win-
ner-take-all affair. deliberation is not a
headed chatter. in a society where a
free and undemocratic press dominates,
This belief is not just implausible, it
is delusional. M
primarily—or say about who
only—a free these voices
media available came to suspect that a commercial press are, and how
to many citizens. a corollary is that, for could be more concerned about its own such voices have to interact to address
cyberspace, the restraints of ethics are
not relevant. just let a thousand voices
interests than the interests of the pub-
lic. so much for the hidden hand of the
issues democratically. it says nothing
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36 media Winter 2010 37
computer-assisted reporting inside the numbers
PowerPivot and other heavy duty tools Counting crowds
In an effort to stay relevant, Microsoft is beefing up What’s the best way to estimate the number of people who attended that
its features for Excel and Access conference, demonstration—or who were killed in the Rwandan genocide?
Fred Vallance-Jones Kelly Toughill
a new decade is
with it yet another new
powerful features for journalists because of
their ability to quickly summarize data.
My preliminary look at PowerPivot sug-
database among journalists. one of the most
useful changes streamlines the creation of
new tables if you are building a database from
T he footage is
grainy but clear,
shot from a rooftop
version of Microsoft gests it is going to be a powerful addition scratch. if you choose to create tables directly so far away that
office, this one dubbed to the familiar suite of tools in excel. it in table-datasheet view, rather than open for years the world
office 2010. The actual requires that your computer come with at design view to create the table structure first, thought the famous
release date has not least a couple of gigabytes of memory, but you can now choose the data type for each bit of film showed the
Jones is an
been announced, but i even the cheapest laptops and desktops field as you create it. and if you don’t choose Kelly Toughill murder of two wom-
assistant profes- downloaded the public usually come with that these days. an older a data type, access will do it for you based on teaches journal-
en. but only one was
sor of journalism beta version (office- computer with less memory or without a the information you put into that field for the ism at the Uni-
a woman. The person
at the University beta.microsoft.com/ dual-core processor might be overwhelmed first record. so if you type in a number, access versity of King’s
kneeling, waving his
of King’s College en-us) to give Media by the new feature, which is probably one chooses a number data type. similarly, if you College.
arms and clasping his
in Halifax. readers a preview of reason it comes as an add-on. type in some text, access makes it a text field. hands in prayer was her father.
what to expect in the of course, this is not the only change in if you don’t like what access chooses, you can These were the only deaths cap-
latest versions of the most popular pro- the new version of excel. go to design view and change it. tured on film by reporters during the
grams used for car. The most noticeable thing when you There’s also a new “fields” tab on the 1994 rwandan genocide. researchers,
The biggest treat is reserved for users of first open excel (or any of the office ap- ribbon, allowing you to change settings for politicians and court officials have been
the excel spreadsheet. a new add-on called plications that were first given the “ribbon” fields within a table without having to go arguing ever since about exactly how
PowerPivot significantly torques excel’s user interface in the 2007 version) is the to design view. many Tutsis and moderate hutus were
ability to analyze data. disappearance of the big office button at Many other features remain the same, killed between april and july 1994. Was
excel has long had a feature called the top left. used to access file manage- but the new access allows the creation of it 500,000, as human rights Watch esti-
Microsoft Query that allows you to do ment functions such as opening, saving and databases designed to be published to the mated in 1999? Was it 800,000, the figure
simple sorting and filtering of data from an printing, it has been replaced by a file tab web, via a Microsoft sharePoint server. it now used by most media? The rwanda
external source such as an access database, on the ribbon that opens what Microsoft is will be interesting to see if that becomes government puts the figure at 1,174,100.
and then insert the results into an excel now calling the “backstage view.” it’s pretty a useful option for journalists wanting to one author alleged two years ago that
sheet for further analysis. but it has always much the same thing you got when you drive data out to the audience. 1.7 million people died in the horror.
been clunky to use and limited. clicked on the office button, but it should The debut of office 2010 will bring with People estimates are some of the most
PowerPivot is a different story. make it easier for users to find the most it Microsoft’s new online versions of core difficult numbers to calculate. estimat-
for starters, it allows analysis of external basic features, as well as basic information office applications such as Word and excel. ing civilian war casualties is just an
databases of almost limitless size, effec- about the file itself. These web-based versions of the program extreme example of a problem faced by
tively eliminating excel’s normal limit of another change that you will likely will be free, as are other online, browser- journalists who cover protests, natural
a million rows (or about 65,000 rows in find useful is the ability to customize the based office applications such as Google disasters or even rock concerts. how
versions earlier than 2007). ribbon, in much the same way that users docs. Microsoft is coming late to this many people were there? how many
but even better, you can join tables to could customize toolbars in pre-2007 ver- growing market, but has one big advantage, were injured, sickened, forced to flee?
other tables or to data within excel itself, sions of excel. You can now create your and that’s the office brand. i expect that Many media organizations take the
based on common linking fields, the same own ribbon with the commands you use Microsoft will use the online versions as a safe but wrong approach: They require
way you can in a relational database. so most frequently. way to promote purchases of the full ver- reporters cite authorities for estimates of
now if you have a table of government con- of course, there are myriad other modi- sions by people who might otherwise have crowd size, the number of people home-
tracts and a table of political donations— fications and tweaks, but these are the ones never considered an expensive, desktop of- less, injured or dead. but often authori- SEEING WAS NOT BELIEVING: That is why some shrugged off the early warning by Doctors
with the names spelled the same way, of that stood out during my first look at the fice suite. i hope to devote a future column ties are wrong. Without Borders that Rwanda was slipping into a genocide. The report seemed unbeliev-
course—you can use excel to find matches beta version. a newer and better version of to a head-to-head comparison of Micro- anyone who has covered a protest able, so many dismissed it as do-gooder propaganda. Now we know better. These skulls
between the two. access, too soft’s new online apps and Google docs. it belonging to the victims of the 1994 Rwandan genocide are shown in a display case at the
march knows this. some police officers Nyamata church, Nov. 24, 2006, outside of Kigali, Rwanda. Photo: AP/Jody Kurash.
The analysis is done by way of pivot The 2010 version of office also brings should prove an interesting new chapter in will vastly underestimate the size of a
tables, themselves one of excel’s most changes to access, still a popular desktop the battle between these modern titans. M
continued on page 40
38 media Winter 2010 39
continued from page 39
crowd because they don’t know how to governments are well meaning, they They are still battling over the truth
estimate, they don’t care or they want
to discourage future protests.
may not have the information.
helping agencies are motivated to ex-
The first estimate of the genocide’s
For the sake of the story
Protest organizers tend to exaggerate aggerate figures. even when their reports death toll was 500,000 mostly Tutsi vic-
their numbers, sometimes from sheer are scrupulously honest and meticulous- tims. The figure was struck by counting Michelle Lang had that feverish impulse to understand
enthusiasm and sometimes to boost ly researched, non-profit agencies often the number of Tutsis who remained alive
their cause. suffer an appearance of bias. after the genocide—roughly 130,000— and it took her to Afghanistan, where she wrote about war
estimating a crowd in a confined space That is why some shrugged off the and subtracting it from those who lived
is pretty easy. imagine a grid hovers early warning by doctors Without bor- in rwanda before the violence began.
over the crowd. The grid is made up of
squares as wide as you are tall. count the
people in one square and then multiply
ders that rwanda was slipping into a
genocide. The report seemed unbeliev-
able, so many dismissed it as do-gooder
but how many Tutsis lived in rwanda in
1994? a census put the number of Tutsis
in rwanda at 596,000 in 1991. With normal
i t isn’t hard to know
why journalists are
journalists. it is their
and so in fate’s unsentimental way, it put
her in the belly of a light-armoured trans-
port, cheek-by-jowl with canadian soldiers,
that by the number of squares in your propaganda. The right question was: population growth, that means there were impulse to see, their careering along the “safe” roads outside
imaginary grid. if the crowd is dense in how did they know that? 675,000 Tutsis by 1994. some argued that appetite to know and Kandahar city. it also put her in the path of
front and loose in back, use two grids. if it is always the right question when the census grossly underestimated the their passion to tell. a roadside bomb. and it killed her.
the crowd is in a place with a known ca- weighing the validity of people esti- number of Tutsis because the hutu gov- it begins with a con- she came home with the other dead, her
pacity, estimate whether the place is half mates. how did the police officer esti- ernment wanted to minimize their place in is a professor of
suming curiosity, what flag-draped casket met at Trenton by the
or three-quarters full, and then multiply mate the size of a crowd? did he count? society and because some Tutsis claimed to journalism and essayist stuart adam Governor General, the defence minister and
your estimate by the known capacity. in how did the medical officer of health be hutu to avoid discrimination. international called that “rushing her fiancé. she was treated with the same
a meeting hall, sometimes all you have calculate h1n1 infection rates? did she it took almost 10 years before the census affairs at Carleton sense of wonder.” a respect as the soldiers, which was gracious of
to do is count the chairs. if there are 15 consider only confirmed cases? was tested. researcher Marijke verpoorten University. He sense of discovery is the military, though they were soldiers and
chairs in a row, 10 rows are full and 20 doctors Without borders was one of compared municipal records to the census can be reached at the sine qua non of she was a journalist and there is a difference.
rows are half full, there are 300 people in the only helping agencies that remained records of one district. she found the two andrewzcohen@ journalism; without Yes, she knew the risks. but she was there
the room. docu- yahoo.ca. it, you will never see, as an observer, not a combatant, and it ap-
if you ments know or tell. pears that she wasn’t unduly worried about Remembering Michelle Lang: Eventually, some-
one else will take her place in Afghanistan. Like
Helping agencies are motivated to exaggerate agreed on
The incurious won’t get very far; better
they sell shoes or drive a cab. but if you see
how the assignment could end for her.
after all, canadian journalists have been
Michelle Lang, he or she will be drawn—inexora-
bly, irresistibly, even tragically—by that rushing
will be figures. Even when their reports are scrupulously except things as they are and ask why, if you have in and out of afghanistan since 2001. none
sense of wonder, unfazed by where it may lead.
challenged, ethnic- an inclination to doubt, this may be the has died. conferred today? Your editors may (or may
sometimes it honest and meticulously researched, non-profit ity. The thing for you. some, like my old friend, the redoubt- not) appreciate your work in the field and
is worth the municipal There will always be gifted journalists who able Matthew fisher, are in afghanistan
trouble to agencies often suffer an appearance of bias. records will see more, know more and say more than —or other war zones—most of the time.
some of your readers, too, but society really
doesn’t care about what you do—until the
count every showed their colleagues. but understand this: without others come and go on rotation from day you’re killed.
head. That’s 40 per a deep and honest skepticism, someone who canada, as lang did. They think of the she was a reporter’s reporter, on as-
what the in rwanda when the genocide exploded. cent more aspires to be a journalist will be as miscast in danger less than they think of the story, signment for one of the country’s largest
Toronto star’s Tom Walkom did when The group’s early estimate started with Tutsis in rwanda than the census showed. the role as the celebrated son of the Passover which, like fisher, they cover with integrity, newspapers. To get there, she had done
ontario unions marched against then- rare eyewitness accounts. That means there were 911,260 Tutsis in seder who “wits not to ask.” imagination and courage. real work and earned real awards. she
Premier bob rae at an ndP retreat. sometimes reporters do their own rwanda when the genocide began. if there Michelle lang always asked. she had no one becomes a canadian war cor- deserved her success. her colleagues called
Walkom stood at the driveway to the estimates by traveling to hospitals, mass were 130,000 left, that means that almost that feverish impulse to understand and respondent, even if only for a moment, her “guileless,” “gentle” and “earnest.” by all
conference grounds and counted every burial sites and refugee camps to collect 800,000 died. it took her from alberta, where she wrote for fame or fortune. You live in constant accounts, she was committed to writing the
protester who marched by. body counts and eyewitness accounts. That isn’t the final word. There commendably about medicine for the danger or in constant boredom, usually in other story of the war, the one supporters
The trouble comes when you can’t see others use a variation of the grid meth- are still arguments about the crucial calgary herald, to afghanistan, where she trying physical conditions. for this, there is of canada’s afghan mission often complain
the people you must count. They are od. They interview everyone on a street estimate of how many Tutsis survived, wrote about war. little applause at home, especially in cana- reporters don’t cover.
buried, hiding, in hospitals or shelters. or a neighborhood or in a corner of a and there are various estimates of how curiosity drove her to learn what da, where the afghan war is unpopular. eventually, someone else will take her
What do you do then? refugee camp and ask how many of their many hutu died as well. canada is doing there besides fighting the ernest hemingway was decorated by the place in afghanistan. like Michelle lang,
ask government agencies? ask help- relatives are missing or killed. That fig- The lesson for journalists is how Taliban. shortly into her tour, it drew her united states in 1947 for his role in covering he or she will be drawn—inexorably, ir-
ing agencies? Maybe. The important ure is then multiplied by the number of well hidden the people numbers can to a provincial reconstruction team, where, the second World War. he was awarded resistibly, even tragically—by that rushing
thing is not whom you ask, but what neighborhoods affected, or the size of the be. hundreds of thousands of people she told her editor in the vernacular of the a bronze star Medal for having circulated sense of wonder, unfazed by where it may
you ask. total refugee camp. it is crude, but often were killed in rwanda, but reporters trade, there should be some good stories. “freely under fire in combat areas in order to lead.
Governments are often motivated to better than simply relying on authorities captured only two of those deaths on of course there would be. of course she obtain an accurate picture of conditions...” This article initially appeared in The ot-
minimize disaster figures. even when for their version of the truth. camera. M would go. don’t we always go? do you think such recognition would be tawa citizen on jan. 4. M
40 media Winter 2010 41
The last Word
some journalists want to blame the
CanWest does the dance of death national Post for bleeding the other
as chris cobb wrote in his 2004 book,
But will it take its newspapers down with it? ego and ink, which looked at the birth
of the national Post in particular and at
canada’s newspapers in general: “The Post
had been a journalistic phenomenon that
Catherine Ford strode, well prepared and guns blazing, onto
W hat does one
say when the
only business she has
the canadian daily newspaper battlefield...
Within weeks, if not days, it was as if the
Post had been around forever. That alone
ever been involved was a monumental achievement.” but the
in is in danger of reality was that the Post was bleeding money.
becoming irrelevant? one doesn’t have to be an insider to know
Worse, what does one that when a newspaper’s ad-to-editorial per-
Catherine Ford is
a retired Calgary
say to the company centage is topsy-turvey, about 30 per cent to
Herald colum- that is overseeing 70 per cent, instead of the other way around,
BLEEDING MONEY AT THE NATIONAL POST: One doesn’t have to be an insider to know that when a it’s losing money hand over fist.
nist and editor the last gasp of its newspaper’s ad-to-editorial percentage is topsy-turvy, about 30 per cent to 70 per cent, instead of the
and now amuses newspapers even as it other way around, it’s losing money hand over fist. Photo: so when it was sold to canWest, the
herself with her fends off creditors? company inherited a situation that was canadian citizenship back, although not aspers had few choices. Writes cobb:
blog caford.word- is there a worst worse than they believed when they fast enough to keep him from an ameri- “canWest was going to cut the excess-
press.com aspect to the story? handed over $3.2-billion to conrad can jail, and the third never owned or ran es… attempt to turn a profit and give
Maybe if you are, black to gain control of the former any newspapers until, like the television the national Post a future.”
like me, a retired canWest employee southam newspaper chain. as Matthew ads for rolaids or Tums, they can’t believe journalists have predicted the demise
receiving a company pension. at least, Mcclearn wrote in canadian business, they ate “the whole thing.” of the Post since its first issue. but in re-
unlike retirees from the television arm analysts now believe “publishing assets “Well, at least the newspaper owners ality, unless the entire chain of papers is
of the conglomerate, newspaper pen- might be worth somewhere between now are canadian,” i would tell audiences. uncoupled, the Post will remain. it gives
sions have so far (fingers crossed) not $750 million and $1 billion, far short of regardless of one’s status or position national advertisers an outlet in Toronto
been threatened. the debt outstanding. in the newsrooms of canadian news- and through the chain, the country.
That’s my version of full disclosure. “but then, it’s hardly a seller’s mar- papers, very few journalists are really The secret of newspaper profits is that
it’s also helpful to know i retired from ket. newspapers must endure more aware of the machinations in the upper people pay to receive them and advertis-
the calgary herald five years ago, so than simply a recessionary drop in ad- levels of corporate canada. i don’t know ers pay for those eyes. The daily newspa-
whatever i hear about the state of edito- vertising. circulation is falling by about why canWest finds itself in a precarious per is a habit. it dies with my generation.
rial newsrooms across canada today is two per cent each year, and advertisers position these days, i can only specu- only a few young people in any
second-hand. like all rumour, it needs are abandoning papers in increasing late. crowd read newspapers, fewer still want
to be taken with an eye to who’s talking. numbers for online and other media.” if the company is eventually broken to pay for them. and a plugged-in gen-
The opinion of the editorial unions at it would be foolish to blame canWest apart, sent off for the financial wolves to eration gets its news online.
various papers and the opinion of man- for “killing” the newspaper business devour, and its newspapers like the cal- but here’s the challenge: Without
agement have been and are still at odds. as it would be to blame obama for gary herald, edmonton journal, Mon- newspapers, who pays for journalism?
as both sides have their own particular the state of the u.s. economy, or the treal Gazette and vancouver sun sold off Without journalists being paid to find
axes to grind, the truth of cuts, layoffs, expense of the iraqi war, or indeed, any piecemeal, it might be the death of the out stories the government and other
miser-like behaviour and suffering stan- of the legacies left behind for obama to canWest brand, but that’s not what will special interests want to keep quiet,
dards of journalism are just opinion. own and try to clean up. kill the newspaper business. what happens to democracy?
canWest may be (and forgive the i used to tell a joke when giving speech- for newspapers, it has been the perfect and the real threat: Without jour-
analogy) the barack obama of newspa- es—one that went “you know it’s time to storm—a generation that doesn’t choose nalists who work for paying organiza-
per owners. it’s not that they killed the retire when you’ve sat in the same office to read newspapers, a climate in which tions providing the information to the
newspaper business single-handedly, for 25 years and you’ve worked for three news has become entertainment and internet, where does real information,
they didn’t. it’s not that newspapers different companies…one of which doesn’t a society that demands something the come from?
are dead. not quite yet. but, much like exist any more, the second of which was print medium cannot deliver—news in so-called “citizen journalists?” don’t
the president of the united states, the being sued while its owner wanted his an instant. make me laugh. M
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