Image via Blogging 4 Jobs, appropriately.

The unpaid internship has long been a point of contention, especially among journalists: do these internships provide eager, budding journalists with the opportunity to gain new skills and get their foot in the industry’s door, or is it akin to slave labour?

If the latter, who is to blame?

This question reached a head in recent weeks, with the Ontario Ministry of Labour cracking down on illegal unpaid internships at The Walrus and Toronto Life. The CEO of St. Joseph Media, which publishes Toronto Life and Quill and Quire, hinted that other internship programs in the province would soon face the same scrutiny.

It’s important to understand why these internships cause so much backlash; it mostly comes down to the fact that the boundaries between legal and illegal unpaid internships are unclear. There are six criteria for a legal unpaid internship in Ontario according to the Ontario Ministry of Labour’s website, and they sound simple enough. But until this recent crackdown, there seemed to be little oversight from the province to ensure that interns don’t, for example, replace someone else’s job, effectively providing the employer with free labour. No one would know about such abuses unless an intern complained to the ministry.

While still exploitative, it’s somewhat understandable that smaller publications in an unstable industry are looking for any way possible to stay afloat; unpaid interns are tempting, and for a long time the province didn’t seem to mind. But some larger corporations take advantage of the seldom-enforced criteria; last year, Roots Canada and Bell Media came under fire for apparently flouting the regulations.

While many are sympathetic to the broke intern’s plight, some say that the labour ministry is taking a simplistic view of a complex issue. As Alexandra Molotkow, a former Walrus intern and now senior editor at Hazlitt, wrote in a recent piece, “The rule of thumb for any internship program should be: is this as good as, or better than, J-school?” Rather than looking strictly at the companies that provide them, Molotkow writes, the government should also consider financial supports for those who turn to unpaid internships for a leg up.

But she also acknowledges that when she did her unpaid internship, she had the rare opportunity to be immediately hired, and was supported by her parents. That’s a problem that many point to—the fact that it’s mostly rich kids who can entertain an unpaid internship creates what some have called a “media elite.” In an industry that thrives on presenting diversity—of people or of ideas—in its work, an unbalanced workforce that favours the privileged is dangerous.

The notion of the unpaid internship is not to blame; the problem is that the definition of the intern has changed. Now, interns are those so desperate for a stable 9-5 in a shitty economy that they will edit, fact-check and do work they know they should be paid for, just for a tiny chance that someday, hopefully, they will be paid. And for that eventual paycheque, they might not report unfair labour practices. Hopefully, now that the labour ministry has done that for them, publishers will take a good, hard look at the ethics of their operations, and either provide truly valuable opportunities for their interns, or just start paying them.

Remember to follow the Review and its masthead on Twitter. Email the blog editor here. And of course, don’t miss the features from our Spring 2014 issue here

Posted on April 09, 2014

I’ve read 180 pages of the new Michael Lewis book Flash Boys and like Reuters blogger Felix Salmon, I haven’t come across anything major that I didn’t already know about high-frequency trading and what it’s done to financial markets.

I’ve been interested in HFT for a few years. The first feature I wrote in journalism school was about how the Toronto Stock Exchange isn’t actually located on Bay Street but in what is marketed as a “top-secret” suburban data centre. I learned that the big brokers and these other firms I had not heard of before (the HFTs) were paying thousands in rent to house their computer servers next to those of the exchange in an attempt to shave teeny, tiny slices of a second off the speed of their trades. It’s called co-location and it’s a moneymaker for the exchanges. (I found the exact location of the data centre—address, building number, floor—through a Google search and visited the building last year. How top-secret could this place be?)

Here’s the thing: I didn’t get the story published. A portion of it appeared in a Financial Post Magazine photo essay last summer, but most of it has stayed stashed away in a folder somewhere on my MacBook. I’ve circled the technological evolution of financial markets for multiple class assignments. I’ve written about the death of open-outcry trading, the gestural language the traders once used when face-to-face trading was still a thing. Then there was that poorly made audio slideshow on the trading simulation competition that the University of Toronto’s Rotman School of Management hosts every year. And I even designed a pretty infographic on how electronic trading has taken over the Chicago Mercantile Exchange. And my thesis, which will be completed this summer, was supposed to be about HFT.

I’ve had a feeling something was rotten in financial markets for some time, but I spent more time talking about my suspicions than writing about them. And then this past Sunday night, I was watching 60 Minutes when Michael Lewis started talking. “The United States stock market, the most iconic market in global capitalism is rigged,” he said. “By whom?” asked 60 Minutes correspondent Steve Kroft. “By a combination of these stock exchanges, the big Wall Street banks and high-frequency traders,” Lewis responded. “Who are the victims?” “Everybody who has an investment in the stock market,” said Lewis.

Financial news has been in a state of WTF ever since Sunday’s segment. (You have to watch the main character of Flash Boys battle with one of the guys he says is rigging the market. It’s the best 23 minutes of CNBC all year.) Everybody and his mother is an expert in HFT now. And soon, every publication will write something on HFT faster than I can write my thesis and then no one will want to read anything more about it.

My reaction to all this: no freaking way.

I don’t know if markets are rigged. Most of the academic research I’ve read seems to dispute this. But what I do know is Lewis asked himself a lot of the same questions I did, but unlike me, he actually tried to find some answers and didn’t stop until he did. I’m not saying I could have authored Flash Boys. After all, Lewis has a way with words and narrative that few have. But I could have pursued the story further, asked more questions and kept asking them.

Earlier this week, I had lunch with a former editor and I told him the story about my first feature on co-location and my research on electronic trading and my thesis on HFT. He laughed at me for a good 30 seconds. Here’s why: Michael Lewis scooped me.

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Posted on April 03, 2014

This week on “Journalists Being Cheeky”:

The Halifax Chronicle Herald arranged its pages by theme.

A certain British comedian noticed.

A Beatles fan snuck into One Yonge Street.

And The Australian got a chuckle out of a study on sleep.

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Posted on March 28, 2014

By quarter to nine last Thursday night, the crowd at the back of Toronto's Esplanade Bier Markt had thinned into discrete, scattered clusters. The party launching the Spring 2014 issue of the Ryerson Review of Journalism was over, and members of funk and soul cover band Soular were beginning to set up their gear. Lead singer Dione Taylor paused in front of the stage for a moment and watched.

A couple of hours earlier, the space where she now stood was occupied by a long table on which overlapping copies of the new Review—at 110 pages, the longest in the magazine's history—were arranged into several wide fans. Students, family, friends, faculty and journalists mingled over drinks and helped themselves to appetizers from trays carried aloft and circulating the room. Harvey Cashore, senior producer of CBC News's special investigations unit (and a past Review profile subject himself), chatted with a couple of members of this year's masthead. Cashore grinned, impishly. “Where's the Rob Ford room?” he asked, a reference to one of the mayor's infamous nights of alleged excess. Told that bar staff had been asked that question already but wouldn't give up any information, Cashore cast his eyes around the party. “A whole roomful of journalists—somebody ought to be able to figure it out.”

Seemingly, there was little appetite for the assignment, and little time. About half an hour later, Review instructor Tim Falconer managed to gain the attention of most of the crowd and initiate the part of the evening devoted to speeches. He quoted Brian Stewart, former senior correspondent for CBC's The National. "It's always puzzled me how the Review is always so good," Stewart recently told Falconer on a visit to the magazine’s lab.

Building and maintaining that reputation has taken significant contributions of time and expertise from a number of people, and the launch party’s second and final speaker, editor Megan Jones, waited out intermittent applause while thanking a laundry list of this year’s helpers: the magazine’s art director and designer, its lawyer and a dozen different story editors.

When the speeches were about to begin, Cashore glanced at his watch and said that he couldn’t stay much longer. But before he left, he told a story from the years he spent investigating the Airbus affair. For a time, he worked with German reporter John Goetz, and the two made it their summer goal in 1999 to get their hands on former prime minister Brian Mulroney’s bank statements. However unlikely their success was at the outset, three months later they had the documents. “Half the battle,” Cashore said, standing in front of the magazine table, “is having the confidence to know that you can do it.”

Remember to follow the Review and its masthead on Twitter. Email the blog editor here.

Can't stand the smell of fresh ink? Keep checking our website this week as we start publishing the features from the magazine.

Posted on March 24, 2014

Image via The Agenda's YouTube channel.

"Where, Oh Where, Are All The Female Guests?” started out well enough. After questions about the lack of diversity on TheAgenda, anchor and senior editor Steve Paikin took his exasperation online. The producers, he wrote, are committed to gender parity, having tried for years to include more women on the show. When that effort didn’t seem to pay off, they invited Armine Yalnizyan, Shari Graydon, Kathy English and Jordan Peterson onto the program in 2012 for a discussion about the underrepresentation of women in the media.

Still, the panels remained overwhelmingly white and male.

Despite our commitment, despite our efforts, despite EVERYTHING, there are too many days when it feels as if female guests are an endangered species,” Paikin wrote.

From there, his weekend post was a good example of how not to address criticism about gender disparity on television. He says the responses from queried guests (needing to find someone to take care of their children, visible roots, not feeling qualified enough to speak) are excuses, without addressing the larger issue of sexism behind the problem. Maybe question whom his male guests rely on to watch their children and why his female guests can’t seem to find the same support. Why not discuss the reason women are more likely to pass on a professional opportunity out of concern for their appearance?

The show’s website followed the debate online and collected some of the responses on its website, welcoming more feedback in the future. But just as Paikin’s 2012 panel failed to produce significant results overnight, the events of this past weekend won’t do much, without changes to the media climate as well.

In his post, Paikin points out that women are underrepresented in areas covered on The Agenda, writing:If we're doing a debate on economics, 90% of economists are men. So already you're fishing in a lake where the odds are stacked against you.” While politics, foreign affairs, economics and sciences are important topics of discussion, it’s also valid to question why subjects that might draw more women to the show and elsewhere aren’t covered as thoroughly on television or in print.

The issue isn’t just that women are a minority in the aforementioned fields; it’s also that so-called “women’s interests” are considered fluff. In her June 2013 article “Can Women’s Magazines Do Serious Journalism?” for The New Republic,Jessica Groseinvestigated why so few women’s magazines are nominated for prestigious awards. Despite these publications’ popularity, she found many women—herself included— downplay their own contributions or refuse to write for the magazines altogether. Not that The Agenda should drastically alter the focus of their show, but it might help to encourage editorial input from the women they invite on the program.

The public simultaneously expects less and demands more of women, who face more hostility and scrutiny when they venture into male-dominated spaces. When writer and activist Janet Mock agreed to an interview with Piers Morgan last month, she was treated so badly by the journalist that it warranted a follow-up interview, seemingly to discuss her concerns; it was more of an opportunity for Morgan to loudly defend himself to his critics. And it’s not just guests. Both Amanda Hess at the Pacific Standard and Martin Robbins at Vicewrote in January about the abuse women risk when they publish or debate online. “A woman doesn’t even need to occupy a professional writing perch at a prominent platform to become a target,” Hess wrote.

The question shouldn’t be how do we convince more women to do interviews, but why women are reluctant or unwilling to participate in public discourse. That’s the approach the website Informed Opinions took when it came to Paikin’s defense on Tuesday. It reports that among the reasons women decline interview requests are time constraints, self-doubt and lack of trust in the media. (These concerns came up on The Agenda two years ago, as well.)

Paikin may have responded with good intentions, but it was a missed opportunity to ask some key questions (again)—ones that would likely do more to address gender disparity on television than a defensive blog post. The Agenda will devote another show to the issue on March 28.

Remember to follow the Review and its masthead on Twitter. Email the blog editor here.

Posted on March 19, 2014

In a follow-up to yesterday's post on the five movies about journalism that you should watch, here's a compilation of their less-savoury counterparts. Not all of these films portray journalism poorly, but every one depicts the profession unrealistically in one way or another. Here's how:

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire

Besides dragons and the rebirth of the most evil wizard of all time (page-one material, to be sure), Harry Potter’s fourth-year adventures also feature Rita Skeeter, a snoopy journalist with no regard for truth, but a keen instinct for scoops. Skeeter covers the Triwizard Tournament, publishing inaccuracies that have major repercussions for our favourite boy wizard, and taking every unethical path imaginable to get her stories. (Skeeter’s paper TheDaily Prophet causes no end of grief for Harry and his friends in the last few novels of the series.)

Mad City 

A film about a journalist warping reality to suit his purposes, Mad City comes off as preachy and sanctimonious. It also takes a big swing at broadcast news and implies those who work in the industry are willing to manipulate and bury the truth to get a story. Mad City came out in 1997—an inopportune time, when concern about the influence of the media was growing, following coverage of the O.J. Simpson trial and the death of Princess Diana.

Thank You For Smoking

Katie Holmes plays Heather Holloway, a journalist trying to get the full story on a tobacco lobbyist (Aaron Eckhart). Her key strategy: having sex with him. This is generally frowned upon.

Runaway Bride

Richard Gere plays a lazy columnist, who doesn’t even bother to fact-check his lede when he writes about a woman who ditches her would-be groom at the altar. Luckily, it leads to him finding true love. Unfortunately, it leaves his credibility as a journalist up for debate.

Life Or Something Like It

Angelina Jolie plays a workaholic, a television reporter working for a Seattle news station. Incidentally, we don’t see the platinum blonde at work all that often—but when we do, her interviewing techniques are entirely unrealistic and condescending. (And by the way, Jolie earned a Golden Raspberry Award nomination for this one.)

Remember to follow the Review and its masthead on Twitter. Email the blog editor here.

 

Posted on March 15, 2014

Don’t panic.

Image via Maclean's.

Or, okay, go ahead and panic. Whatever.

In case you’ve been living under a rock or haven’t checked your Vidéotron email: Pierre Karl Péladeau (or PKP), who served as CEO of self-styled “communications giant” Quebecor from 1999-2013, and vice-chair thereafter, is running for the Parti Québécois in the upcoming provincial election.

Realizing that it could be a wee conflict of interest to be a cabinet minister and vice-chair of a communications giant, Péladeau announced that he was resigning from his post on the board of directors, which is great.

He also told reporters that he had no intention to sell his shares in Quebecor, which CBC reported represent a 28 percent stake of Quebecor, Inc. and a majority stake in subsidiary Quebecor Media’s voting rights. Quebecor Media owns, among other properties, the Journal de Montréal, the nation-wide chain of Sun newspapers, and broadcaster TVA.

One might call this problematic (if one wanted to understate the situation), and a possible violation of the legislature’s ethics code, if that’s the kind of thing one chooses to careabout.

It is one thing to have meddlesome owners sticking their noses into newsrooms for political purposes (Mr. Asper on line one), but quite another to have a meddlesome owner sticking his nose into newsrooms for both political purposes and personal advancement. As editor-turned-senator Joan Fraser told The Canadian Press*, “When you cross the line and become both a legislator and the proprietor of very powerful media voices, I think the situation becomes significantly more troublesome.”

Proving an owner’s hand in a newspaper or broadcaster’s editorial operations can be difficult, but for Péladeau, it is at least a problem of perception. In 2010, according to a survey** for the chaire de recherche en éthique du journalisme at the University of Ottawa, 50 percent of Quebec respondents thought that PKP’s corporation was the most likely media company to use its publications to advance its directors’ political and economic agendas. That number was effectively unchanged in another survey the next year.

Last year, Martin Patriquin of Maclean’s presented a few disturbing accusations of interference and agenda-setting by PKP, including at its newspapers. (For what it’s worth, Quebecor denied it all, and the Sun papers—Péladeau’s English-language fiefdom—say he’s a hands-off kind of guy.)

These are unfamiliar, if not necessarily uncharted, waters. Even the closest comparison isn’t close enough to be instructive: Michael Bloomberg, whose ownership of Bloomberg LP made him richer than Yemen, was not known for editorial interference before his three terms as mayor of New York City, and has only gotten his hands dirty since leaving office.

Concerns over editorial independence, particularly in communications giants like Quebecor, are not new in Canada. In 1981, the Kent Commission recommended legislation that “would raise the status and enhance the freedom of journalists by protecting their rights, if a newspaper is under an ownership that has major interests outside the newspaper, and provide an opportunity for the voice of the community, whose citizens have a particular stake in the quality of the local newspaper, to be heard.”

The commissioners may have meant major pecuniary interests (perhaps in forestry and shipbuilding), but surely a seat at the cabinet table counts as more than a minor interest.

*CP is 1/3-owned by Square Victoria Communications Group, which publishes La Presse and is a subsidiary of Power Corp., which was featured on the cover of Wednesday's Quebecor-owned Journal de Montréal. La Presse put Péladeau on its cover.

**The 2010 poll was conducted via telephone by Écho Sondage, and surveyed 1,005 Quebeckers, aged 18 or older. It had a margin of error of +/- 3.1 percent, 19 times out of 20, and a response rate of 30.7 percent. The wording of the questions and responses can be found (in French) in CREJ’s report; the question about a media outlet’s economic or political agenda is on page nine. For insight into how journalists feel about ownership concentration, see page eight of this 2012 report from CREJ.

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Posted on March 15, 2014

Sometimes they are nuisances, looking for a scoop; sometimes they’re heroes uncovering the truth. Either way, journalists crop up in films all the time. Hollywood has a tendency to either vilify or glorify the noble* profession of journalism. Film historian Steven J. Ross said in his book Movies and American Society that films are “partly a reflection of what audiences are. And what they are is no less influenced by what they see.” The public opinion of journalism is affected by fictional portrayals of the industry, as much as society’s perspective on any industry is in part a reflection of popular culture. Here are five movies featuring journalists that you should watch (because they’re accurate); check back this weekend for five you should avoid (because they’re not).

Citizen Kane

A reporter traces the life of newspaper publisher Charles Foster Kane in this 1941 film that Orson Welles co-wrote, directed, and starred in. Kane’s past is revealed through flashbacks and interviews with those who knew him as the reporter who tries to solve the mystery of the newspaper magnate’s dying word: “Rosebud.” Also, it’s often named the best movie ever made, so there’s that.

All the President’s Men

Few journalists are household names the way Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward are. This 1976 film follows Robert Redford and Dustin Hoffman as better-looking versions of the two Washington Post journalists who broke the Watergate scandal. Maybe it’s a slightly romanticized portrayal of journalism, but the true story it’s based on brought down a president, so . . . 

Capote

This 2005 film takes us back to 1959, when Truman Capote begins researching the brutal murder of a Kansas family for what eventually became his non-fiction book In Cold Blood. The book is an important (if disputed) piece of journalism, and Capote is a worthwhile watch for everyone—plus, it features a brilliant, Oscar-winning performance by the late Philip Seymour Hoffman.

Shattered Glass

Based on the true story of former The New Republic reporter Stephen Glass, the film follows Glass’s downward spiral from journalistic Wunderkind to exposed fraud. (Glass fabricated sources and events for over half of hisarticles for the magazine.) The best quality of Shattered Glass is how it simultaneously portrays the worst and the best sides of journalism: on the one hand, the fabulist Glass (Hayden Christensen); on the other, his editor Chuck Lane (Peter Sarsgaard) shows the blend of integrity, trust and skepticism we hope for in the journalists whose work we read.

Broadcast News

A smart, amusing and thoroughly ’80s look at the world of TV journalism, Broadcast News was also praised for its accurate portrayal of . . . well, broadcast news. It follows the story of a producer (Holly Hunter) and her new anchor (William Hurt), hired for his good looks and charisma. There is some sappy romance, but there are also brilliant moments showing the nature of the news beast, the reality of deadline pressures and that there really are people in the industry who care more about quality journalism than they do about ratings.

Honourable mentions: Network, Almost Famous, Frost/Nixon, Good Night and Good Luck, His Girl Friday

*On calling journalism “noble”: you’re on the Ryerson Review of Journalism’s website. Of course we hold the job in high esteem.

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Posted on March 14, 2014

Image via Twitter Canada.

Now more than ever, people turn to Twitter to get quick updates about the world around them. They check the app during their commute to work, or while waiting for their latte—whenever they have a spare moment to feed their curiosity. Twitter has become crucial to a company’s branding and—for journalists—a chance to share news, opinions and create a forum for discussion.

Journalismdegree.org is the latest website to rank the many journalists on Twitter, with its list, “Best in #Journalism: 151 Twitters worth a follow.”The article lists the accounts of journalists, publications, schools and organizations that the website’s young owner believes are worth following. Of the many Twitter accounts listed as “follow-worthy” are such staples as TheNew York Times, Anderson Cooper, The New Yorker, Vice, the Poynter Institute, WikiLeaks, and theBBC. Despite the site’s low profile, it has been tweeted 556 times and liked on Facebook 422 times.

What’s surprising is that of the 151 Twitter accounts, not one is Canadian. The majority of the accounts are American, and unsurprisingly, many of them are based in New York City. A few belong to UK-based organizations, while others are personal accounts of German and Australian journalists—but no Canadians (Vice, which was born in Montreal, only kind of counts).

What does this say about the true North? Does Twitter stop at the 49th parallel?

There are plenty of Canadian Twitter accounts that offer similar, credible information and insight about journalism like its counterparts across the globe. But organizations like Canadian Journalists for Free Expression and the Canadian Association of Journalists were ignored, while household names such as Maclean’s, The Globe and Mail and the quirkier, personality-driven Walrus feed were overlooked.

Yes, the list could be dismissed as just the opinion of one J-school grad, but it’s not the only list out there. Mashable’s10 must-follow breaking news accounts on Twitter” excluded Canadians, but included a few Brits and Al-Jazeera English. Time’s 140 best feeds of 2013 had one obvious Canadian on the list: spaceman Chris Hadfield. There was apparently no room for Canucks among the journos in the “Tech,” “Politics” or “Informers” categories.

Canada is home to journalists who work just as hard in the field and have just as much, sometimes more, experience than the Americans who always appear on such lists. It’s unfortunate that others across the border aren’t taking that work into account.

Remember to follow the Review and its masthead on Twitter. Email the blog editor here.

Posted on March 11, 2014

Mark your calendars and tell your bosses you might be late next Friday: we’re launching the latest (and biggest) issue of the Ryerson Review of Journalism on Thursday, March 20th at the Bier Markt in downtown Toronto.  

Keep an eye on our multimedia section and Facebook page for previews of the stories you’ll find in the issue.  

Remember to follow the Review and its masthead on Twitter. Email the blog editor here.

Posted on March 10, 2014
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