Role of Media in Integrating Immigrants: Metropolis Panel Discussion
For those interested in the role of ethnic and mainstream media in integration, please find below a transcript of the Metropolis discussion last week, organized by New Canadian Media. Thanks to CIC for deeming it important enough to merit transcription (your tax dollars at work!).
Transcription prepared by Media Q Inc. exclusively for Citizenship & Immigration Canada
Transcription préparée par Media Q Inc. exclusivement pour Citoyenneté et Immigration Canada
DATE/DATE: March 15, 2014 11:00 a.m.
LOCATION/ENDROIT: Hilton Lac-Leamy, Beethoven Room, Gatineau, Quebec
PRINCIPALS/PRINCIPAUX: George Abraham, Publisher, New Canadian Media
Randy Boswell, journalist and professor at Carleton University
Andrew Griffith, former DG at Citizenship and Immigration
Michelle Zilio, Reporter, ipolitics
Corinne Prince St-Amand, DG at CIC
Magdalene Maxwell, Intervener
SUBJECT/SUJET: 16th National Metropolis Conference Partnering for Success: Facilitating Integration and Inclusion holds a roundtable entitled “Role of Media in Integrating Immigrants and Creating Inclusive Workplaces and Communities.”
George Abraham: (off microphone) My name is George Abraham. I am the founder of a fairly modest media enterprise called New Canadian Media. It’s my brainchild. One of the reasons why I came up with this idea, it’s partly based on my own immigrant experience in Canada. Let me first introduce the other roundtable participants. Andrew Griffith used to be a former DG at Citizenship and Immigration Canada responsible for policy.
We have Randy Boswell, a professor at Carleton University. We have Michelle Zilio who is a journalist with ipolitics.ca and Hindia Mohamoud who is the Executive Director of the Ottawa Local Immigration Partnership just apologized this morning. She has a family emergency but she has provided her notes to me and I’ll try. I don’t really want to speak for her. We really wanted that community aspect in this conversation but unfortunately she’s not here.
Andrew Griffith: I’ll start. Somebody has to start. Anyway, as George said I was the former DG at Citizenship and Multiculturalism at CIC. I’ve had a lot of government experience in other government departments. My most recent contribution was writing a book “Policy on Arrogance” (off microphone) which really talked a lot about the relationship between the government and civil servants through my experience on Citizenship and Multiculturalism.
What I’m going to try and do is capture at least provoke a discussion in terms of how I think the government perceives ethnic media, how we as public servants perceive ethnic media, what are some of the strengths and weaknesses I see of ethnic media and really how it contributes to integration overall.
Randy Boswell: I’m Randy Boswell. I spent most of the last 25 years being an active journalist with the Ottawa Citizen primarily and then more recently with Post Media News so served in a number of different positions in that time as a writer and an editor. Probably the last ten years was most notable for an interest I developed in Canadian history and identity and culture and carved out a beat as a Canadiana reporter I guess you could say.
It’s a little bit unusual and I’ve been teaching at Carleton full time for the last two years and before that for about 15 years as a sessional contract instructor. The perspective I bring is on a view of journalism as something that can be a very powerful force in community building of all kinds. It’s an imperfect enterprise but it certainly is a key contributor to formation of identity and building of communities and emphasizing that we belong to a number of different communities as Canadians. That would be the thrust of what I have to say.
Michelle Zilio: I’m Michelle Zilio. I’m a journalist with ipolitics here in Ottawa. We’re an online news website. We are non-partisan, independently owned. We do what all other mainstream media does but we are strictly focusing on Canadian politics.
I focus on four beat areas. I do foreign affairs which now includes development. I don’t so much touch the trade side of things. I also cover defence, the Arctic and of course immigration which is why I’m sitting at this table today.
Question: What is your name again?
Michelle Zilio: Michelle Zilio.
Question: Michelle Zilio.
Michelle Zilio: Your department is probably very familiar with my name (laughs). I’ve been with ipolitics for about a year and a half. I’ve been covering immigration basically since I walked through the door. I thought it was something important. It wasn’t assigned to me. I chose to cover it. I was a human rights major at Carleton University where I also graduated from the journalism program so had a natural interest in the immigration topic.
I also worked at the Ottawa Citizen. I was a local reporter. I did an internship there and I’ve worked for Farm Radio International in Ghana as a radio reporter, about a year and a half ago. Today I’m going to talk more about from a journalist’s perspective, the changes in the media industry, the economic and technological challenges that we face.
George really wanted me to focus on answering two questions beyond that. The first one I’ll be talking about is how we prop up our shrinking subscriber base. As Randy and I were talking about earlier we’re really, the media is really having to come up with new innovative ways to find funding models and to survive essentially. We’re only three years old so we’re really on the cusp of doing those things and we’re doing quite well as far as I understand.
I’ll be talking about the challenges we face and how I think we can get out of this lull that the media industry has been in. The second question I’ll be talking about is how do we better cover Canada’s changing demographics. I’ve set the points I want to cover off there about what journalists can do and what I’m trying to do on a daily basis with my work at ipolitics. That’s kind of where I’m heading today. I’ll hand it off to George.
George Abraham: (Off microphone) This is a lot more informal than I thought it would be so I’m not going to use my notes. I’ll start with what Hindia wanted to say. Hindia’s contribution was critical to this roundtable. She is the one as I see it, the interface between Canada as an institution or Canada as a government and immigrants to Canada. Unfortunately she isn’t here. I have her notes.
Let me step back a moment. The topic is role of media in integrating immigrants, creating inclusive workplaces and communities. I’m an immigrant to Canada. I’ve been here twelve years. I just want to cite one anecdote to give you the perspective of a new immigrant. I came to Carleton to do a master’s in journalism. I had already been to Harvard. I was familiar with North America. I’d been to Canada before but the first thing I did was of course subscribe to a newspaper.
Every Monday morning I would read a story about so-and-so told Question Period something fairly sensational. I come from India. I know the Westminster model of democracy and I know there’s Question Period but I could never figure out how would there be a Question Period on Sundays.
What’s going on here? Are they reporting the news late? What is going on? It took me many years to figure out that the Question Period referred to there was the Question Period on CTV which is a different show altogether.
The point I’m trying to make is that media is the connector. It is the way newcomers like me get to know Canada. To give you another example, last year I held a small session like this in Toronto with a small group of new Canadian journalists. They’re called the New Canadian Media Association. There was a girl there who just graduated from Columbia Journalism School and she did a piece for us subsequently where she had a hard time figuring out what NDP stood for. Every story would say NDP, NDP, NDP and she said I wish somebody had told me right up front that is a political party.
What I’m saying is it all depends on where we start from. I think it helps explain the role of media. Media is a critical, critical player. Just to jump off to what Hindia has said and then I’ll hand it off to the rest of the roundtable. She was going to present to you the community perspective. She runs an immigrant settlement, the Local Immigration Partnership and so one of the points she was going to make was that immigrant immigration is a community issue that has to be tackled collaboratively.
She was going to say helping build an inclusive national capital that is welcoming to all immigrants. I think this was a key point. The invisibility of immigrant voices in media breeds misconceptions about who we are and perpetuates exclusions. She also would like to make the point that 55% of all of us visible minority populations lives in high poverty neighbourhoods. Lastly ethnic media have an important role but are a poor substitute for mainstream. These are two distinct categories.
I’ll hand it off to Andrew right after this but from my point of view in the twelve years I’ve been in Canada practicing as a journalist I’ve seen a disconnect. There’s a disconnect between the mainstream and the ethnic. The mainstream does not have ethnic content and the ethnic doesn’t have mainstream content, mainstream in the sense lots of studies have shown that ethnic media do not cover local stories. I think Verizon (ph) has done a great job in homing in on that particular issue.
Of course we all know there are constraints. That’s the major piece from my perspective, this disconnect between the ethnic and the mainstream and the fact that 22% of Canadians are foreign born like me and obviously come to the table with a slightly different perspective. Andrew, do you want to go from there?
Andrew Griffith: I’ll try to capture a number of things. Political perspective as I understand it, what my perspective was as an official and Corinne might have some different views on that that she can share during the discussion, assessment of the effectiveness, how it impacts on integration and try and come with some concluding remarks that help provoke some questions.
From a political perspective I start with friends and enemies. The ethnic media is basically the friends category because by and large you don’t ask tough questions of the government. You don’t bother them about policy inconsistencies and when the Prime Minister invites you to a photo opportunity you’re very good and well behaved there whereas Michelle and her crowd, they’re the nasty people. They’re the enemies. They’re the ones who ask the tough questions and even if they’re stressed out with cutbacks they still try and provide that critical element which is a really important one in a democracy.
The other element from a political perspective, I don’t know how many of you read “Shopping for Votes” by Susan Delacorte (ph) but I think it’s one of those must read political books because it gives you a very good understanding of just how sophisticated political party targeting of voters is. The Conservatives may be ahead of the other parties but the other parties are all running to catch up. That’s just the way we’re in boutique politics which plays to the strengths of the ethnic media if you play your cards right.
A more neutral perspective on the political side, it obviously does give them some insights into the community discussions. What are the issues that are coming up to the fore? Like any government operations with the media it’s always about selling policy and selling arguments. There’s nothing wrong with that. It’s just part of the process.
When I was an official we paid attention to the ethnic media and we benefited from something that I would love to have. We had a clipping service of the ethnic media. When I was working on a Citizenship file or Multiculturalism file I not only knew what the mainstream media was saying. I had a sense of what the communities were saying.
By and large they weren’t saying as much as I thought they would say but it was always important to have that. It also helped by seeing how the political level was reacting to some of the coverage because it gave a better sense of officials who are a bit removed from the political process how the interests were playing out in the community.
When you’re trying to provide advice to the government and you’re trying to figure out that delicate balance between being fearless in your advice – Minister, this is very risky. “This is courageous to you” is the Yes Minister phrase. Yet do it in such a way that doesn’t mean you’re being disloyal to the government. It’s helpful to have more input and what are the issues and how they’re perceiving that.
What I also found as an official is that there wasn’t as much engagement on the policy files as I expected from the ethnic media. I’m talking more in terms of the broader Immigration Citizenship and Multiculturalism files. On issues that were very specific to the communities like historical recognition that I worked on, yes there was plenty of coverage and plenty of feedback.
On the broader issues where you had a Minister and a government that was making very substantial changes to Canada’s immigration policy writ large, there was less coming from the ethnic media and the communities that I expected. Turning to strengths and weaknesses or effectiveness, obviously the strength of the ethnic media was you have a community specific perspective and you bring it to the table.
You have a focus on the community so you’re connected to the community. You do have political attention because it’s an important element for all political parties to engage the communities. It’s an important complement to what the mainstream media provide. The flip side is the weaknesses. On policy issues you’re not a player. That was my perception. Again it may be changing.
It’s growing but again it takes capacity. I think quite often like all government tend to do, you tend to be used by the political level and you just have to be aware of that. The other frustration for me was of course that now that I’m outside of government and I don’t benefit from the tools that Corinne has, your Google searches don’t capture it and then you have the language issue. It’s very hard for the outside policy makers or policy influencers or commentators to have a real sense of what’s going on there unless you try and follow all of them and you speak fifteen languages which most people aren’t able to do.
Corinne St-Amand: Just to give you a sense as a Director General or any member of my team we get daily the ethnic media and it’s in a long e-mail but it’s categorized by topic. Andrew would look to Citizenship and Multiculturalism topics to just look for those headings and it’s all there. I would look to the integration, language, foreign credential recognition topics and it’s all there.
I’m not going to spend my time reading through his stuff because we’ve got this much of a window to read it but that’s the kind of service we get every single day. We get the main topics in the top stories from the general media coverage but then we get a separate e-mail with ethnic media.
Andrew Griffith: And there’s a third one which is the social media.
Corinne St-Amand: That’s true, social media now.
Andrew Griffith: There’s no equivalent that I’ve found if you don’t have those clipping services. Mainstream media you can pick up through (inaudible) which replaced Google Reader but other ones you can’t. From an immigration point of view, there’s always this dynamic integration. We all get a bit schizophrenic at times is that in a multicultural society you have the dynamic of the focus on the community, the community viewpoint.
Then you also have the dynamic in terms of the broader Canadian integrated perspective. You never get that quite right and it varies by community, it varies by individual. The ethnic media has an important role in providing the local focus but also being connected to the broader focus.
If I had a wish list it would probably more be saying that having a more effective engagement on some of the broader issues and not just the community issues and of course a better sense of some of the policy dynamics that are going on so that like on the Citizenship Act, fairly major changes, valid policy options.
I haven’t seen too much informed comment on what I’ve been able to pick up in the ethnic media and again my slice is very limited compared to what the department would have but it’s relatively, the sites that I follow or the ones I try and track, it’s relatively silent and yet they’re significant changes.
The other element which is always interesting is how do you have a strong community focus and yet are there linkages you can build with other communities that may be on similar issues or other issues. I think that’s one way that again if you’re trying to foster integration it’s very good to have the Ukrainian Canadian perspective but how does that link to the Syrian Canadian perspective on what’s happening in Syria? There are some interesting linkages there that can make a broader discussion.
Again there are capacity issues. I appreciate that. The other fact that is always interesting on multi issues in particular is what I call the PC factor, political correctness and how do we as Canadians maintain the need for respect and yet be a bit more frank in our discussions? I’m not saying we should go … Ezra Levant is not the model I’m pointing to but a more informed discussion where you can be a bit more open on some of the accommodation issues, what makes sense, what doesn’t make sense.
They’re some of the challenges on the integration side. Lastly, some concluding remarks before I pass it on. I guess you’re next Randy. Both parts of the media landscape are necessary and complementary. I don’t expect the ethnic media to try and duplicate what’s going on in the mainstream media because that’s not needed but I do think there are opportunities to have a bit more, nudge your way into some of those broader policy discussions than perhaps you have done to date.
Again it may vary by community. I also understand as somebody who has done self-publishing is how hard it is to attract readers. You have to balance your readership interests which may be more local and the wish well if I had a bit more money to do it yes we could do a bit more stuff. I understand that’s a real constraint and that’s a constraint that mainstream media is having these days too. It’s not unique.
The other challenge is the balance between Canadian and I’ll call it for lack of a better … homeland or country of origin issues. Some communities seem to be really engaged in the homeland issues. Ukraine is the most natural example and rightly so. Other communities don’t seem to be too interested. Really from a formal integration point of view and as somebody who was involved in writing Discover Canada where basically it was Canada first, you say maybe that’s a good thing if you don’t focus on the homeland issues.
People are people. You have family and friends. You come from historical knowledge. It’s natural. I think the last thing as we said before is again that for new Canadians whether first, second, third or whatever generation it’s important that you get your news both from the ethnic media as well from the mainstream media because you’ll be missing if you don’t have both. I’ll leave it there.
Corinne St.-Amand: If you haven’t got a copy of Andrew’s book, you should get one.
Andrew Griffith: Thanks for the plug. I actually have a few copies.
George Abraham: (Off microphone) Andrew is not an ethnic media publisher but he has looked at it from the point of view of how government views the ethnic media, its strengths and its weaknesses. Did you want to engage him on anything before Randy speaks about (off microphone).
Corinne St.-Amand: I have a question for the other folks.
George Abraham: We’ll get to that in a moment.
Corinne St.-Amand: No, no. It’s linked to what Andrew said. Andrew, one of his propositions was that there’s sort of a divide between the ethnic and the mainstream. As I listened to him speak I thought to myself, why hasn’t there been more of a partnership to date.
Why do some of the ethnic media sources not call up CTV or CBC, even ipolitics and say I think there’s a win-win here. I think we could feed you in your mainstream media more detailed commentary on issue X, Y or Z to give you more stories in your mainstream. Vice versa, the mainstream could feed you more of the mainstream issues. Why hasn’t that happened yet?
Magdalene Maxwell: Maybe I can respond to that. My name is Magdalene. I know that’s been my initial work with employment. We deal with employment and newcomers. Approaching media housing has not been the best of experiences. The questions are on readership. How interesting is the story even when we as the ethnic group see there is so much success, there is so much stuff we want to put out there.
The media houses don’t necessarily see it in the same way because everything for them, the comments I often get back is how could we … what twist can we put on this story that’s really going to give it appeal to everybody. We want to have great readership.
I’ll share a couple of points I’ve noticed in my own observation. A year ago I started a blog. It was not intended to be for new immigrants or integration but to be quite honest with you right now there are 15,000 people following it across the world and a lot of new immigrants because I’m very much connected in the immigrant community. The issues that we are bringing up it’s more stuff around emotional connection, not dealing directly with immigrant integration but people are relating to the issues because they need the voice where it’s being … my voice is kind of expressing what their hopes are.
As we highlight and profile different people who are contributing towards success I am seeing the participation of a lot of newcomers reacting to that. I think the groups, the diversity groups we have here, we are longing for a place where they can feel that connection but also interestingly the Canadian public is very much on that blog as well. They are kind of responding to a lot of the issues.
A lot of the issues are on integration but not necessarily integration in terms of I’m an immigrant. I need to integrate to Canada and this is all the settlement stuff. It’s more about life stuff. I think people need that connection so they can see things from both angles.
Corinne St.-Amand: Your point that the mainstream media, Magdalene, doesn’t take up on the ethnic, on this possible offer because they don’t think it would be good for the readership, the readership is changing. The landscape is changing.
Magdalene Maxwell: They need to realize that. We’ve had to pay to get published in media where you think that the journalists would automatically say this is a good story. This is something that is worth. I was very surprised to see how much they challenged it. I was shocked because what I consider to be a good story is probably not what the media houses consider to be a good story.
George Abraham: I think that’s probably a good segue to Randy to tell us what is a good story.
Randy Boswell: There’s actually a lot of interesting connections to what I wanted to talk about. Specifically about where these gaps are between mainstream media organizations and the ethno-cultural communities that are across the country where undoubtedly there are great stories percolating that are not necessarily being captured.
I do think there’s a disconnect between the ethnic media if you like and the mainstream media and there are ways in which that should be exploited by journalists who are good journalists. That’s part of the trick here. If journalists recognize that there are places where stories are happening that they’re not capturing then becoming better journalists is really in a way the answer because the challenge is to go find stories and to reflect communities and to generate discussion and issues.
I think the better that we can identify wellsprings of stories then the mainstream media as well as more narrowly focused ethnic media culture specific are going to be doing a better job of helping people understand their own communities and to understand each other’s communities. That’s ultimately what I’m going to talk about, how journalism helps to facilitate that understanding.
I know that we are not and I think of myself as a journalist. I teach it now but I’m still practicing. I know there are a lot of flaws. I know there are a lot of problems with the way media cover cultural issues and all kinds of political issues and international issues. In many ways it’s like democracy. It’s the best system we’ve got and the challenge then is for journalists to get better and better at being able to tap into voices that have not been heard, to dig out stories that have not been discovered.
There are skills that you can bring to that whole enterprise. That’s partly what we do at Carleton School of Journalism which is where I am. Let me frame it a little bit by some general thoughts. One thing is that journalists don’t require certification. You don’t have to have a license to be a journalist. That’s an important fact especially today when a lot more people can participate because of not necessarily in a paid fashion but they can participate because of the explosion of internet access and personal publishing and so forth.
It’s important to realize too that education happens both formally like what I do at Carleton in classrooms but also informally in newsrooms and in networks and then in a more organic sense by people who have maybe a latent interest in engaging in the public discussion and just observing what other media professionals do and then emulating those styles, the way people write, the way people project stories, discover new ideas and share them.
Education is not just Carleton School of Journalism and Ryerson and UBC in this country or Columbia elsewhere but there are various layers of education in journalism. A point that was already touched on is that as much as there may be an excitement and a wish to spread stories, journalistic enterprises need to be supported in some way. There are challenges to gather advertising or subscriptions. Sometimes tax dollars can be secured or maybe it’s donations. A lot of enterprises depend on volunteerism of one kind or another. That’s important to recognize.
There has to be some way of supporting these things. That affects the kind of content that is going to be generated. An underlying theme in everything we do now at the School of Journalism and in the professional world and in ethnic media and everywhere else is that there are profound technological and economic changes happening, restructuring. Revenue models are falling apart. There’s an enormous challenge for all media mainstream and otherwise to support themselves, getting back to your earlier point and also to figure out how to reach people in a sustainable way, whether it’s through mobile applications and/or traditional media outlets.
Everything is in flux. Nobody really knows what the hell is going on and it’s tumultuous. The effect is very palpable. People I’ve worked with for years as reporters, incredibly talented, are losing their jobs. Younger people coming out of school are having a challenge trying to break into the business even though they may be incredibly talented and enormously gifted and full of vim and vigour and they might be running into walls.
These are real big challenges. On the other hand there are opportunities as George must know because other kinds of voices are springing up. How that is all going to congeal in some way if it ever does possibly into some kind of sustainable economic enterprises which may bring new ways of seeing the world and practicing journalism.
A point I want to make too is it’s really important to recognize that media outlets and practitioners of journalism are serving a variety of markets. They are geographical markets. That’s the old understanding – the Ottawa Citizen, the Edmonton Journal, BC Television. You’ve got a very specific geographically parochial market that you’re serving. Then there are also issue specific subjects such as hunting and fishing community have their sources of media. Obviously ethno-cultural groups have their media outlets. There is an umpteen number of different kinds of ways of cutting what the definition of community is so it’s not just based on ethno-cultural traits.
It’s interests, political affiliations, all kinds of different ways of cutting that cake so that’s important to realize too. I know I’m going to sound a little bit lecture-y now but I guess I am a professor now so I can do it. I want to quickly run through what I think the ideal goals are of journalism. This is almost classic instruction about what it is that journalism is supposed to be doing but I want us to think about it perhaps in the context of mainstream media as well as the ethno-cultural media organizations that exist.
One of the things we’re trying to do is a search for truth. That’s what journalists classically are all about but there has to be a recognition of its illusiveness. Journalists are always wary about being excessively certain about what it is they’re writing and that’s a good trait in a journalist, to be cautious and thoughtful about making sure a diversity of voices are heard and attributing those accordingly and being even-handed in your reporting.
There’s no monopoly on the truth. One of the jobs of a journalist is exactly what we were just talking about earlier, orienting the readership about the institutions that exist in their society and we are failing constantly if we make assumptions that people know these things. If people know that Question Period is a TV show that happens on Sunday instead of being an institution of Parliament.
Michelle will have heard this many times because she was in my class at one point recently. I spend a lot of time talking about how to make sure your story is orienting readers about the processes that you’re reporting on so they understand that it’s not a decision is made magically but that there is a civic institution called city hall or a court system. People perhaps who have not gone through the process of writing a news story may not realize how much thinking has to go into orienting readers about such basic things each time. That’s a real big challenge for journalists.
Journalism is all about fostering debate and discussion and about challenging and reforming institutions. That’s a fundamental job that we see about what we do. When government departments feel besieged by our questions there’s a reason for that because we are attracted to holding institutions accountable and to questioning whether things could be done better. It’s like an official opposition.
At the same time it’s all about showcasing in many ways powerful story telling. We’re drawn to human interest, powerful stories about people overcoming obstacles, incredible achievements. There’s a reason why we go nuts at Olympic time including Paralympic time because people are overcoming challenges and doing great things. We’re drawn to those stories. Those are stories that we should be tapping into more from all kinds of different communities.
I think in some cases we spend too much time talking about politics and reporting on politics. We probably should be doing more about how communities themselves are doing great things in various ways. That’s just a personal thought. There has to be an openness to diverse political and cultural perspectives. That’s something we ingrain in students is the importance of being inclusive in our thinking about issues and sources we contact. That’s all part of it.
There are some fundamental things that we value as reporters in journalism – investigation, accountability, transparency, freedom of information, government departments who are represented here please hear this.
Andrew Griffith: As somebody who has an outstanding page of requests …
Randy Boswell: Obviously we privilege things like and I know we are not always perfect at it but accuracy, verification, attribution and ethical responsibility. These are all part of what it is that journalism students are taught. We are guided by certain doctrines whether people think so or not, objectivity, fairness, balance. Again these things are drummed into journalism students and all journalists on a repeated basis. The other part of this is there has to be mechanisms in good journalism organizations for feedback, for counter-argument, for correction. That’s also something that needs to happen.
In an ideal world journalism is fulfilling all of these different functions, providing forums for fact based commentary and advocacy but there also has to be feedback mechanisms. Increasingly those feedback mechanisms are instant and direct. It never would have occurred to me twenty years ago when I was writing a story for the Citizen and maybe a week later there would be a letter to the editor about some mistake I’d made.
Now I can file a story at 4:00 p.m. A mistake can be pointed out at 5:00 p.m. and it will be corrected before the paper hits the doorsteps of people. It’s a much different world and in many ways a really improved world for feedback. All of those things together and that’s the thing I really want to emphasize is that when all of that is happening, when journalists are invigorating debate and reflecting communities with wonderful stories about great things people are doing or bad things people are doing, I think that is really the strongest community building function that journalism can provide.
It’s not just about strategic use of media to get one particular message out. It’s the whole mess of democracy and social engagement that really is what serves communities – the good stuff, the bad stuff, the whole nine yards. That happens, ideally it should happen with the mainstream media and I think it should happen at the more local level with community media as well as ethno-cultural media outlets.
My suggestion is that all journalism institutions should be concerned with the full gamut of subject matter, not just happy stories about festivals that people are attending. Of course that’s part of the mix. That’s important in recognizing and perpetuating cultural heritage but we also need to be challenging institutions, questioning leaders, all kinds of different things that mainstream media typically are doing. I think all levels of media should be paying attention. Good journalists will in fact be drawn to those kinds of stories no matter where they’re operating, whether it’s on line or for a particular cultural media organization.
I had a diagram of all kinds of media organizations and a recognition that all of us inhabit different communities. The CBC is somewhere in here, their logo, is in fact the embodiment of a particular national community like the Globe and Mail in some ways but then we also have regional identities that are being expressed through media organizations like the Ottawa Citizen in this case, likewise other cities with their own publications.
Then there are ways that we cut our identity in a different way, whether it’s the Greek community or the Chinese Canadian community. There has to be an awareness that there are these various levels. They interact imperfectly as we were talking about and that’s a shame. There should be more cross-fertilization of storytelling and issue generation but that is all part of the mix that we have to recognize is the messy picture, the landscape that we all inhabit.
I referenced it earlier the outdoor magazine, the hunting and fishing community which doesn’t really fit into this discussion but it’s a representative of the fact that there are all kinds of different subject specific publications of sorts that are part of the media mix. You just have to go to a magazine shop and realize there’s endless numbers of communities of science fiction fans and everything else that is in some ways part of the journalistic community. We have to be aware that’s all part of the mix.
Am I going too long? I’ll hustle it. I just want to say a few things about Carleton School itself. There is not … we don’t identify potential students from specific ethno-cultural communities. Students are drawn from an elite segment of the high school population. Good marks get you into the School of Journalism. There are about 500 undergraduate students at a given time, 30 master’s students at Carleton.
You get a training not just in journalism but you get a broader academic education. You go to Carleton. You take about half your courses in journalism, about half your courses in other disciplines – politics, history, literature. There’s a mix that’s been a format for the Carleton School of Journalism from the beginning, the idea that you’re not just a journalist. You’re a citizen of the country with a broader education.
Important to recognize at the School of Journalism you get instruction in print journalism traditional, on-line, multimedia, broadcasting both radio and television that you also have instruction in journalism history of law and ethics. Undergraduate recruitment occurs across Canada. It’s not just in the Ottawa area. It’s obviously a national institution. International students as well. It’s interesting. About 80% of the students are women.
I asked Chris Waddell who was going to come here about why that is. He said largely it’s because female students do better in high school and they’re more likely to be in the upper echelon of the students who are likely to get offered admission to the School of Journalism. I’ve had many classes with 19 women and 1 male student. There’s a huge in many ways correction in the makeup of the student population. It used to be that there was a traditional second language requirement in the School of Journalism.
You had to have proficiency in French when I went through journalism school in the 1980’s. Now that’s no longer the case. It can be French. It can be whatever other language you have. That’s a recognition of the changing makeup of the student population and the population of the country. We offer apprenticeships at places like Omni Television, the Centre for European Studies, CUSO International. There’s a $2,500 scholarship for students who have “a demonstrated interest in multicultural issues”.
There’s good examples of interest in international affairs such as administering the James Travers foreign corresponding fellowship, Carleton Centre for Media and Transitional Societies. There’s a well-earned reputation for interest in international affairs and questions of culture. I would say that in many ways those are gestures towards inclusiveness and awareness that this is a very multicultural society but there isn’t a very conscious attempt to go out to specific communities and say come and be a journalist as much as I think that’s important to have.
I’ll just wind up with a couple more thoughts. As I said, part of what we try to do is instill all of those values about what it is that journalists should be doing. I think in many ways we can take some pride in the products of the school. I know that this person here who you may have heard of was a graduate of the School of Journalism back in 1997. I’m quite sure Nala would have achieved her goals in life without being a student of the School of Journalism but it’s reassuring to hear some of the things she says about her career path and about how she views her role as a journalist.
I’m just going to read a quote from her book. If you don’t know she’s a CBC foreign correspondent who served in the Middle East. As of last week she was in the Ukraine except that she was at Carleton earlier this week giving a lecture. She’s a busy girl. One of the things she said in her book here that reflects the need to get more people from diverse communities in Canada into the media. I know that’s a message that people are sending here.
It’s so important. Here’s what she says. She’s describing issues coming out of the Middle East that she never heard raised as a kid and felt she had a role to bring those out. “I rarely heard such questions answered let alone asked in anything I read or watched about the Middle East in the mainstream media. The crises as always dominated and there were plenty of them. Even then such reports regularly glossed over nuances that mattered ignoring key historical facts, mistranslating people’s words, occasionally significantly altering reality.
I thought with my basic knowledge of the region and language I could perhaps in the smallest of ways try to fill that void.” So important that she’s pointing out here that unless you have a diversity of people practising journalism at every level, CBC national correspondents, community newspapers, you are going to miss perspectives. She’s a walking talking advertisement in a sense for the importance of having people who know about the things they’re writing about and have that depth of knowledge doing it in a high profile way.
At the same time she says, this is from an interview she had on CBC last year, she is constantly questioned are you biased because of your Muslim Arab roots. Her response is “the reason my background makes us different is I know the language. I can talk to people. I can actually hear the little jokes and rumours in a big crowd that nobody else could hear. I think what I bring is more of the context, a little bit more detail than the average journalist would if they didn’t speak the language, if they didn’t know the culture.”
What strikes me about that is the humility of this person. That is I hope a trait that she brought from the School of Journalism in the sense that she recognizes one person can’t change the world. She can do a good job. She can adhere to the basic tenets of good journalism and push the boulder forward a little bit in terms of opening people’s perspectives to different challenges around the world.
Finally I’m going to wind up with one further thought. This is a student from this year. This is a third year student at the School of Journalism. I taught her in second year as well. She describes her goal in the journalistic community as wanting to be Canada’s first hijab wearing anchor. She has lofty goals. She recently wrote a piece in the Muslim link community news site in Ottawa and just described how she was discouraged by her family and by others in her community from going into journalism but decided to proceed.
I asked her about raising her story here and she was happy with it. There’s a quote from her article. She says “we are taught in the School of Journalism to follow the procedures of ethical journalism in order to address our biases. This policy calls on journalists to control their emotions when reporting on sensitive issues, to beware of the political perspective of the story and to report both sides of a conflict whether we agree or disagree.”
That was heartening for a journalism instructor to know that a student who has very strong opinions about world issues to nevertheless approach the job of being a journalist in that manner. That’s reassuring and gratifying. She also is succeeding in bringing her unique perspective. This is the Centretown community newspaper that we produce at Carleton.
She made a point of going out and finding a story related to Centretown, downtown Ottawa, that had an unexplored Islamic connection. She found it. There’s an organization called the Islam Care Centre. She found out they had a new volunteer program where they go and speak to people in a hospital in Centretown and provide companionship, told that story.
The next issue following her journalistic instincts simply went and found another interesting story that has nothing to do with her Islamic background but as I say following her nose she just found a story about a 90 year old man who’s volunteering at a hospital. He’s considered a real prize for Saint Vincent’s Hospital. This is somebody who’s representing in a way her community in a community newspaper and doing it in a way that as she puts it follows the path of maintaining her neutral objective perspective on the world at the same time as bringing a new perspective into the mix.
George Abraham: Thank you Randy. Michelle, over to you.
Michelle Zilio: We’re kind of along the same pattern of thought. I’ll keep it as short as I can. What I can say is there is a lot of pressure on reporters to do more jobs than we’ve had to do in the past. Not that reporters twenty years ago weren’t working hard. It’s a changing industry. There’s more pressure. We’ve got to produce news faster but we still have to produce it accurately.
Sometimes fast and accurate are hard to do at the same time. For that reason a lot of people and there are cutbacks, some people say the industry is dying. My perspective on the whole thing is I completely disagree with that. It’s changing. The media industry is in this awkward state of puberty where it doesn’t really know where it’s going and it’s changing. When you’re 12 or 13 years old you don’t really know who you’re going to be. That’s kind of where we’re at right now.
Those who argue it’s on a dark path I shut them down right away. I tend to joke. It’s hard. I was at a goodbye party for some Post Media reporters recently and it’s tough but you’ve got to keep your chin up and you’ve got to keep trucking forward. I see the changing times as an opportunity to really capitalize on some areas that we really haven’t before. I think the immigrant community is definitely one of those areas.
It’s also a very interesting time to be a young journalist. I came in and tried to think of an area of expertise that both interested me but I also think is in the public interest and that’s immigration. I started covering those issues. It’s also a very exciting time to be an immigration reporter because demographics are changing. Asylum and policies are changing. C24 was a massive bill. There’s a lot of changes in there.
Whether you agree with them or not we need to have a conversation. Trends are also changing with who is coming to the country. Every time we change governments the policies change as well. There’s a lot there and I think more journalists need to have their eye on the beat. That being said I want to address two questions. The first one will be addressing how we prop up our shrinking subscriber base.
First of all ipolitics does not have a shrinking subscriber base. It’s growing. We’re flourishing but there’s no denying that we’re looking for innovative ways to find funding. It’s hard. You cannot rely strictly on subscribers. The Citizen, the Edmonton Journal, the Calgary Herald, they will not survive on that model. Something else needs to happen. For that reason we are all getting involved in different types of journalism like ipolitics is helping to produce a magazine for FSNA which is the public servants retiree association.
We’re finding different ways to bring in money. It’s really interesting to be there. That being said linking that to the immigration side of things George said the exact number if 22.2% of Canada’s population is first generation Canadians. That’s a huge demographic that I don’t think is being fully accessed. We need to find a way to access that for two reasons. There’s great readership there so that equals money. Two, from a more ethical side of things, we’re doing a disservice to the public by not telling their stories.
That’s over a fifth of the population which is concerning to me that not all of their stories are being told. I believe that journalism needs to focus on the bottom dollar to survive because money does keep us rolling at the end of the day but at the same time if we’re only focused on the money and not on the good reporting then the money won’t come. It kind of comes full circle.
If we provide good stories then readers start flowing in but if that process isn’t going to happen very quickly. For that reason we have to find a way. I think you said this earlier Andrew is to balance the readership which is the money side of things and the good reporting for public interest. That’s what we’re trying to do at ipolitics.
That being said we have to find a way to appeal to our subscribers and tell them why these stories are important, why you should be concerned about the immigrants in your community instead of seeing them as ghettoized, a community you don’t interact with. I don’t like the word ghettoized but it is something that I used throughout my time at university when I was studying these communities. It does accurately describe what happens to a lot of people when they come here. They feel very isolated.
That being said, moving ahead with new models, new Canadian media. I know you have partnered with ipolitics to get some advice. We’re kind of on the same page. We’re strictly on line. We have really interesting funding models and interesting ways of finding opinions and reporters. It shows that there is an opportunity here to really cover immigration issues and find an audience for it.
I can tell you that by coming to ipolitics our subscriber base from CIC and just from different immigrant organizations and organizations that represent refugees has skyrocketed because they have to read us because I’m writing about it.
Otherwise you’re not informed. It’s true. I’m not here to plug ipolitics but we do a very good morning and evening briefing. It tells you everything you need to know.
The second question I’m going to address is how we better cover Canada’s changing demographics, these immigration stories. I have six points I want to start with. The first point is that we need more interest within newsrooms to cover these stories. That comes from reporters like myself and editors as well. I have to sell these stories to my editors. I can’t just walk in and start writing which is what I do sometimes because I make my own job description.
You have to make your editors believe in what you’re writing. Otherwise your readers won’t believe in what you’re writing. I’m trying to do that but there’s definitely some resistance and not from my publication but just in the journalism world in general there’s not a lot of interest in the immigration stories because of cutbacks they’re focusing on stories that are sexy.
That being said you look at recent layoffs like Toby Cohen (ph), excellent immigration reporter for the Post Media. I could not keep up with Toby. I’ve got three other major beats but I was constantly chasing her. To see her lose her job was disheartening for me. I hope she’ll land on her feet somewhere else and continue writing about these issues. Another name I want to throw out there is another Post Media connection was Louisa Taylor who Randy worked with and I worked with.
She did a lot of writing about immigrant services and especially refugee healthcare which was really interesting. Now both of them are not affiliated with Post Media anymore. Louisa is still doing some work with Canadian media but it shows you that … it concerns me that these immigration reporters are not there anymore. I’m one of the few that is solely dedicated to this in Ottawa and I’m drowning because there’s a lot of information. There’s a lot of changes happening.
That being said how do we drive this interest? I think there needs to be more financial support for this kind of reporting. Louisa received it for her stories on refugee health. She got to travel and she wrote the stories back here in Canada. There also needs to be some type of system that gets ethnic students into classrooms at Carleton’s journalism school. I know it’s solely based on grades but maybe there’s another way we could explore having those faces represented there.
97% of journalists from a Lethbridge University study, 97% of Canadian journalists are white. Where I work we’re all white. We are 90% women. It’s a very interesting, in terms of taking our population versus our newsrooms, they don’t look the same. How do we get these communities in there? George comes to Canada twelve years ago, has incredible journalistic skills to offer. He’s worked in all these different media outlets. It’s great to see that you’re starting the website that you’re starting.
The second thing I want to talk about is breaking down this dividing wall. It seems a really concrete wall between ethnic media and mainstream media which we talked about. We have to make an effort to see these groups as one with differences instead of two. This is where I turn to the department and I say when there is press conferences or any type of briefings that are directed to ethnic media, just let the mainstream media know it’s going on.
I know the way you go about it is very different because sometimes you have to answer more basic questions but it’s nice for us to be in there and to hear the questions that are being asked in those rooms or maybe just get transcripts to know what’s going on. It’s not a criticism. I get what you are doing because you want to reach out and engage but it would be nice for mainstream media as one way for us to get in there.
I’m not saying we need to become one group because obviously our audiences are very different. We do need to start doing a little more (off microphone). We’ll cover everything from our own angles but at the same time I need to make more of an effort to read more ethnic media and ethnic media need to make more of an effort to read the stuff that I write.
We need to hold hands a bit more and act together. The third point is something that really ticks me off when I see it. We need to lay off the traditional and limited immigration coverage. I am sick and tired of people only reaching out to immigrant communities when there’s a crisis or when it’s black history month. Of course these events garner interest, comments from those groups but why are we only reaching out to them when there’s a crisis? It perpetuates the isolation they feel.
When something good is going on in the community we need to reach out and tell the good stories. There’s always conflict because there’s challenges that people are facing. Journalists are attracted to conflict. I like to see more beyond that. One community I’m very close to is the Syrian Canadian community in the country. I know a lot of Syrian Canadians in town. I regularly talk with them about every issue they’re facing, trying to appeal to our government, trying to appeal to the international community.
Assad is talking about dropping a chemical weapon. It’s those conversations that drive this relationship to prosper and that’s where the stories come out of. I try to do that. I’m obviously very busy with my work but it’s good to stay in touch with those people. I also on that third point I also want to say that it’s important to see various immigrant communities as separate instead of clumping them all into one. We must remember that the communities are from different countries. It’s not based on race. It’s based on ethnicity or maybe religion.
There’s many different ways to see our immigrant communities instead of clumping them into one. I think a lot of journalists because we don’t fully understand and I kind of understand because I grew up in a very multicultural school. I was a minority in a lot of my high school classes. I went to a very multicultural high school which I am eternally grateful for but I think a lot of people aren’t exposed to that.
We don’t know how to approach the issue. It’s the PC politically correct thing everybody’s trying to be careful about. It’s okay to ask a dumb question because I’m sure anybody who’s part of an immigrant community gets asked a lot of dumb questions. It’s just nice to be asked the question.
The last point I want to make is I think a lot of the coverage focuses on the actual immigration process of coming to Canada. Once people get here and they’re trying to settle and access things like healthcare, social services, make friends, learn the language, those are the stories that aren’t being told. Those are the life stories.
My fourth point is I’d like to see more diversity in newsrooms. That was kind of touched on earlier. Of course the point that most Canadian journalists are white, that’s a 14 year old stat but it’s the most recent one we could find. We’ve got to find ways to get more journalists from those backgrounds into newsrooms. We’ve already touched on that.
I’ll go to my fifth point. We need to convince the public about the importance of immigrant communities and their stories. Where I come from, Cambridge Ontario, it’s a very multicultural community. The immigrant community defines us in a way. My friends came from all sorts of backgrounds. It was a very important part of where I came from but different parts of the country don’t see the value of that.
It’s almost like something we don’t want to go near. We have to convince the public not only just our editors but the public about why these stories are important and why they should be engaging with immigrant communities. One of the places we can start is the trend shows we’re going to have lots of new first generation Canadians coming.
What is the point in trying to isolate these people any further? Let’s just try and engage and get everybody involved and everybody understanding and on the same platform. My final point from a political reporter’s perspective is very close to me. I think all immigration issues in order to identify with the public and go back to that fifth point have to be brought back to policy and politics because those are where the decisions are being made and those decisions affect people’s lives on a daily basis, everything from the actual part of applying to come to Canada to getting citizenship to fully settling in.
We need to bring all those stories back to the policy side of things. That’s where I think media need to reach out a bit more to mainstream and that partnership needs to happen. We also need to really make an effort to see through what the political side of the government is trying to sell us. Jason Kenney, lovely man. We know he’s been reaching out to many immigrant communities.
He’s at tons of events and it’s so encouraging to see. Minister Alexander is doing the same thing. I do not doubt for a second that both of those Ministers are so passionate about their files. I really do like that. I’ve got to know their staff very well but at the end of the day as Susan Delacorte says they’re shopping for votes. There’s a huge immigrant community in Canada.
Political parties are out for themselves. I don’t doubt that their efforts are genuine from the Ministers, I absolutely don’t but we have to remember why they’re doing what they’re doing. That’s where journalists come in. Let’s ask the questions. Let’s get the ethnic media to ask the questions because sometimes the questions are a little easier from them. I know this because I’ve been at press conferences with the Ministers and the questions aren’t as critical as mine may be.
I don’t know who’s right or wrong there. It’s a valuable discussion. We need to really ask how sincere is this government’s outreach to these communities beyond showing up at events and participating in their cultural activities and all those things. Are they following through with the promises they’re making? Are the communities getting the funding they need? Are they getting the support through the funding they need because handing someone a cheque, that’s only step one.
You have to be there to facilitate the process and make sure they know how to use that money or use that support. Again I’m not here to criticize the government in any way. I’m here to just point out observations we should all make and questions we should all ask. Those are my six main points. I talk quickly and I ramble sometimes so I apologize.
George Abraham: Thanks Michelle. You would expect me to say New Canadian Media is the perfect answer to every problem that’s been identified so far. The truth is that we are young and very small but the truth also is that we’ve got a lot of support from mainstream media. Our publisher James Baxter is on the end of the phone any time of day. Imagine a start-up like ours to get that kind of … the Walrus Magazine, their legal team, advertising, my point being that we just happened to be at the right place at the right time.
I want to open the floor. We just have fifteen minutes. I think Andrew and Randy and Michelle have said a lot and Hindia in her absence has said it as well. Thoughts, questions?
Question: My name is Wilson Baptiste. I’m originally from the Caribbean. I hold a master’s in tourism management from New York University. Looking at immigration from a different perspective and that’s based on a research paper which I did where tourism could be used as a vehicle for peace and development.
I would like to throw in that idea where tourism can also be used as a vehicle for solving some of the immigration challenges that are faced in countries because initially a visitor, an immigrant is a tourist for the first 24 hours that he lands in the country and then he transforms from there into a common interest.
What I think the media should be doing, can the media change that perspective from an initial tourist contributing to the socio-economic development of this country and later on through their skills to the development of this country. That might be a good research for Carleton University, tourism as a vehicle for solving some of the challenges facing immigrants.
It is also based on the words of President Roosevelt who said that if you remove governments from negotiations the chances of peace would be enhanced. If you remove governments from immigration would that increase the chances of solving immigration problems?
George Abraham: I’m sure Andrew would have something to say about that.
Andrew Griffith: I’m no longer in government.
George Abraham: Now you have the luxury of speaking your mind and why don’t you?
Andrew Griffith: You can make the argument either way and I think I’ve always argued that you have to have a certain degree of policy modesty when you’re looking at issues because people are complex, societies are a complex group, dynamics are complex. Some of the brilliant ideas that we come up with, either at the political level or at the government level, when it comes to the reality of implementation …
But on the other hand, if you take the view that everything can be done by the free market that doesn’t work either because the free market will look after the strong and will not provide support for the weak. If you have a strong equity element you actually have to realize government support and all governments in Canada do that. The Conservative government has maintained considerable investments on the settlement and integration side because that’s really critical to the future of the country.
I don’t think it’s an either or. I think it’s a question of always having a bit of skepticism about a government idea just because we tend to think we can do more than we actually can do and that’s from both the bureaucratic and the political side by the way. But recognize that there is a legitimate role for government in trying to ensure there is reasonable equality of opportunity for everybody.
Corinne St.-Amand: I would just add to that I think you look at the Canadian context and this builds on Wilson’s point but answers your question Michelle. Is this government putting money into these issues? Canada puts $1 billion per year into integration services tools both pre and post arrival, $1 billion a year. It’s the most any country in the world spends on this issue.
This government in the X years it’s been in power has not cut that in any significant way. I look at Jason Kenney and Chris Alexander. I’ve got to say I’ve been in the government for more than twenty years. I’ve never seen politicians that do every single weekend 13, 14, 15 events, 15 events in a weekend every weekend. When do these people sleep?
Michelle Zilio: Minister Alexander has kids as well. I don’t know how the guy does it.
Corinne St. Amand: Whether I look at this as a taxpayer or as a public servant I’ve got to say myself you’ve got to be doing that more than for just getting votes. You’ve got to be doing that because you have a passion to do it.
George Abraham: (off microphone)
Unidentified: I’m speaking from the perspective of the Canadian immigrant integration program which is a program overseas funded by CIC. I want to touch on two things. One that Corinne said the disengagement between local media and the ethnic media. I remember two years ago I approached CBC and they were really interested in partnering with us to see what’s happening with the Canadian immigrant integration program because Canada is the only country in the world providing pre-departure orientation to federal skilled workers and provincial nominees.
I’d be surprised to see how many Canadians even know that. The Ministers have all visited our field offices. We get so many high level delegates visiting but they only wanted to highlight us as part of immigration week which happens I think once a year. That kind of disintegrated whereas when I went to New Media, when I went to Canadian Immigrant magazine, I went to the Philippines Enquirer, we got an article in right away because we know that word of mouth is powerful even though we’re serving pre-departure families are here.
Their families are immigrating and word of mouth is huge. I would love to see also the media cover what Canada is doing pre-departure, how they connect with immigrants at such an early stage and impact their lives. We hold focus groups and there’s such interesting feedback from these individuals in terms of what Canada can do, what Canadian people can do, what service agencies can do, what the government can do.
There’s so many stories and so many lives that can be highlighted.
George Abraham: Also if you are looking at it from a J School perspective, a journalism school perspective it’s not just doing a story about a program or CIC funding. It’s about investing in the Canadian of tomorrow. That’s the story. Often journalists say all they are trying to get is a plug. It’s not a plug. It’s something you have to look at because we need better Canadians. We need Canadians to do better. You had a question?
Question: I’m just being very inspired by everything I’ve heard. Michelle, if you need me to work with you, I’ll come and work with you.
You’re talking my language. I can certainly see where that is going. I’ve seen over the years that there’s such a need to help the Canadian and the ethnic community understand how we come together for the benefit of Canada. A couple of years ago I remember approaching Rogers TV. Actually I have a TV show and it was called Shine Bright Canada. The idea was to be able to bring together Canadians and immigrants in terms of showing how they have … the investment has actually made Canada a better place.
I think a lot of what comes out in the stories, it’s about a new immigrant getting a job. The things that are coming out are such on a surface level. Immigrants bring so much more to this country. What is even more amazing for me in my experience of working on the ground it’s how Canadians have contributed to that development. I think in the ethnic media we are missing out on that other piece. It’s like this or that and it’s not this or that.
There is such a coming together and I think if we sell Canada as a tourism product we need to be able to bring that together. All Canadians need to be able to see that contribution whether it’s pre-arrival, whether it’s settling here, whether it’s integrating here. We are not capturing the investment and the contribution in a way that is very … makes Canada even more proud as a country and make each one of those countries where these people are coming from be even more proud as countries to have that contribution. I really just want to say I’m absolutely inspired.
George Abraham: (off microphone)
Question: I work in immigrant education at George Brown College. I work on programs to both divert newcomers away from college programs that they don’t actually need as well as finding pathways through post-secondary, whether it’s university or college. My question for the panelists is start to think about how some of the recent changes in journalism itself are going to impact not just immigrants but also Canadians particularly with firewalls.
For me I don’t have the funds to be able to subscribe to the Globe and Mail as well as the National Post as well as the Toronto Sun as well as the Toronto Star so I get a diversity of opinions. That really starts to limit what access I have to news. We’re talking about newcomers coming into the country who don’t already know which newspaper has which bias whereas the community newspapers, the local ethnic media are typically free.
That may be their first instance of getting news. I think that in mainstream media there actually is going to be a sea change in terms of that access of news. Michelle’s point about youth and first generation Canadians making up one fifth of the population, we can’t engage our own youth who are born in Canada never mind our own first generation Canadians who are part of immigrant families.
I teach a class part time right now and I gave my marketing students a term project to work on, marketing an Olympian. It was relevant. It was topical. It was current. All of them came to class last week saying I didn’t know what to do. I said were there any sports that attracted you? You didn’t expect us to actually watch them did you? They don’t watch TV. They don’t log on to news stations. They have no clue where to find their news. They don’t go and look for news.
In my class I have international students, immigrant students. I have first generation students. I have Canadian born who have gone through the Canadian system. I have a whole wide range. Not one of them goes and logs onto a news site anywhere at any point in time. How do we engage youth in general never mind youth who are first generation?
The other thing I just want to throw in there is there’s a real notion of credibility when it comes to the ethnic media. I think between the mainstream media and the ethnic media particularly with the news events that you’ve gone to where typically the ethnic media throws softball questions at politicians.
This is one of the reasons why they’re often split so there’s the ethnic media conference and there’s the mainstream media news conference. It’s seen as being a softer touch and they’ll just be happy to have the photograph with shaking hands. How do we as media, as participants within the broader society how do we contribute to building the credibility of those who are participating in the ethnic media? How can we support that bridging of the different aspects of journalism?
George Abraham: You’ve been listening too closely to all the panelists. We can’t obviously tackle all of them. Randy, if you’ll just tackle the access question, I think that’s a good one because obviously immigrants don’t have a lot of money to be subscribing to all these magazines and newspapers.
Randy Boswell: It’s interesting the things you identify as a potential problem the media organizations view as a potential problem from the other side because they can’t figure out how to actually make money. I honestly don’t know the answer and neither does anybody really know how to (off microphone) other than as it stands people can still get their news for free all over the place if they were really interested.
I know that’s a problem too. There is a disengagement I think from common sources of news which is problematic too. If everybody goes to their own little niche or whatever that doesn’t have us talking about the same things necessarily and that’s good and bad in some ways. The paywall (ph) thing, I honestly don’t know how that’s going to play out. I don’t know whether the costs will be not prohibitive. Maybe that’s possibly the answer is that people will have to pay something like they used to have to pay for a newspaper, like a buck or whatever it might be and maybe it is doable.
It is worrisome though if it isn’t, obviously and then there are going to always be however I think free sources of news. I don’t think CBC news radio … it’s not entirely free. You need to have a radio but it’s pretty well free. I think there will always be basic information available for everybody. That’s maybe one solution. There will be specialty media that costs more money.
George Abraham: Andrew, do you want to briefly take on the question of the credibility of the ethnic media and the softball questions?
Andrew Griffith: I judge it by a certain (technical difficulty) media I follow. I judge it by that wonderful article that the Star did where somebody actually got into one of the PM news conferences with the ethnic media which was an opening the veil so to speak on exactly just how softball it was.
That’s not scientific. That’s not evidence based. That’s anecdote based which of course is not correct from a policy perspective but I think to be fair to the ethnic media, a lot of the reporters haven’t had the benefit of a J School education. A lot of the reporters may be on a part time basis. A lot of the reporters may come from a culture where confronting a Minister or Prime Minister is not comfortable whereas you guys just do it. It gets you up in the morning.
Maybe part of the trick is can we provide some coaching on assertiveness training for ethnic media journalists. It is intimidating and there’s a national difference when you’re not used to it and you don’t fully understand or fully buy into your role as actually a critical role. Not critical as in always being negative but asking the questions and trying to understand and not just letting the spin that I used to write and occasionally used to have to write. That’s one suggestion.
I think intrinsically I always expect the ethnic media to be softer than the mainstream media and that’s okay. I would hope that as the communities become more well established and the ethnic media becomes more well established there’s a greater degree of comfort in asking some of the harder questions.
The other question I have, it’s interesting, your two organizations are associated with New Canadian Media. I think there might be some interesting things in addition to providing the technical support, some crossover articles. Maybe you’ve already experimented.
Michelle Zilio: You’ve sometimes put some of our stuff up but I know there’s conversations happening about that. I can’t talk about the business deals. I don’t engage on that front for many ethical reasons but there are conversations happening not just between us but between other organizations about partnering because maybe a certain organization can’t afford to have a bureau in Ottawa and we’re providing a very specialty type of reporting.
The conversations are there. They’re very young and premature. I don’t know what’s going to happen. Another point I wanted to add, when you said it’s okay for ethnic media to ask softball questions, it’s not. I think we need to and I’m not saying they have to stick a recorder in a Minister’s face in the way that we do. I do recognize that our work is aggressive but it’s become what Canadian journalism is.
If we actually went to press conferences together or we interacted more, we could see how they ask questions and they could see how we ask questions. They don’t have to just learn from us. We can learn from them too. Sometimes when journalists ask questions in the mainstream media, the way they pose it is very harsh. Sometimes it’s good to have checks and balances on both sides of things. If we interact with each other a bit more, that’s a great way to learn. That’s that practical side of journalism that Randy talked about. I’m just adding that.
George Abraham: We are out of time.
Question: In terms of the softness of the ethnic media, what about the fear immigrants have if they speak about certain issues it may be (off microphone).
George Abraham: For sure. I’ve worked in the Middle East where if you ask the wrong question you’re either in jail or on a plane. I think it was a very lively roundtable. Thanks a lot. Thank you Randy, Michelle and everybody around this table. Again, thanks a lot.