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Top Reporters Offer Military Media Handling Tips

Ryerson’s course on handling media has raised eyebrows

By David South

Now Magazine (Toronto, Canada), November 12-18, 1992

The whimsical Certificate of Military Achievement hanging in the offices of the Ryersonian newspaper at Ryerson journalism school is testament to the warm relationship between the armed forces and one of Canada’s top journalism schools.

But a two-month crash course in journalism for military public affairs officers hosted by Ryerson this summer has left a bad taste in the mouths of some participants and critics.

The course, which involved 18 soldiers, included two weeks of classes in each of print, radio and TV journalism, wrapping up with two weeks of “crisis management” training. The 60 instructures included such prominent journalists as Ann Medina and Pamela Wallin.

According to an administration newsletter, the course netted Ryerson more than $350,000. Organizers say the course was merely an exercise in familiarizing soldiers with the needs of working journalists. But given the often conflicting roles of the military and the media, some fear journalistic ethics may have taken some collateral damage.

“The course had nothing to do with national defence or the armed forces,” says course teacher and organizer Shelley Robertson. “They just wanted to understand the roles of journalists from the other side. The military didn’t ask us to teach what we teach our students.”

Robertson says the course also benefited the participating journalists by giving them contacts in the military.

But according to media critic Barrie Zwicker, the exercise blurs what should be the distinctly different interests of journalists and the military. “It’s similar to press and politicians. By getting close to the politician, journalists can get information they couldn’t normally obtain. The negative side is that the media can get sucked in and lose a larger perspective. The same tensions exist with covering the military.

Managing media

“It’s up to the media to break the rules and try and get the story. The military always wants to hide its victims. If a Ryerson journalist strikes up a friendship with a public affairs officer, will the reporter be true to their journalistic tradition?”

Colloquially known as spin doctors, hype-meisters and flak catchers, public affairs officers perform much the same tasks in the military as their civilian counterparts in industry and government – including managing information that gets to the public or media.

In the past, Canadian soldiers had to go to the US for special training at the Defense Information School at Fort Benjamin Harrison. But, according to Robertson, the armed forces were looking for a Canadian spin.

With 4,600 Canadian peacekeepers now stationed around the world, including a contingent in the dangerous and volatile former Yugoslav republics, the chances for conflict – and casualties – have increased.

Lieutenant-commander Glen Chamberlain, who helped coordinate the course, says the military’s increased profile means that the forces have to become more adept at media relations. “There is a great desire among Canadians to know what troops on peacekeeping duties are up to. We have a wonderful story to tell.”

Chamberlain says he works on journalists’ behalf with stubborn military commanders. “The armed forces are finding there is a real benefit to having specialized PA officers. We want to help journalists to tell our story well.”

The crisis management section of the course offered participants a hands-on approach to managing journalists. The officers were presented with two scenarios – a murder at Moss Park armoury and a highway helicopter crash – and then practised handling a group of journalists investigating the events.

Course lecturer Kevin Donovan, who covered the Gulf war for the Toronto Star, remembers the effectiveness and sophistication of PA officers in the field.

“When I was in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, I walked into a hotel and on the wall were pool reports – news briefs written by US military public affairs officers – that journalists were encouraged to use for stories. There were some journalists going out into the field to cover stories, but a huge number just sat in this beautiful hotel.”

Stop information

Donovan feels uncomfortable about teaching on the course.

“I was asked by Ryerson to give a talk on my experiences in Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Iraq,” he says. “My initial reaction was no. I hate the existance of public affairs people with a passion. Their job is to stop information.

“I’m uncomfortable with Ryerson being hired by the department of national defence. One officer in the course got very upset when I told them to make contacts with the media and leak stories.”

Course organizer Clive Vanderburgh admits organizers had concerns about conflicts between the role of journalists and military officers. “There was a lot of discussion concerning the potential for conflict – especially that the people hired to teach might think they were there to help the department of national defence to avoid the media

“But we were trying to give a general understanding of the media’s needs. We didn’t sell the country down the drain.”

Another teacher was Robert Fulford, the well-known writer and lecturer on journalistic ethics. “I don’t have a problem with Ryerson teaching the military,”says Fulford. “It’s a way of spreading journalistic technique to people in the DND. It seems to be a natural extension of the work of Ryerson.

“Canadian journalists are ignorant of the military and could do with getting closer. You almost never find a full-time journalist in Canada who knows anything about them. The more you know about the military, the less you will be manipulated.”

But Gideon Forman, coordinator of the Canadian Peace Alliance, fears Ryerson may be helping the military mislead the public.

“Why do these guys practise handling the media so much of there’s nothing to hide? This is just better packaging for the military so they can get what they want from the public.

“I have problems with public money being spent teaching the military to be more effective with the media, while other organizations have their budgets cut or eliminated.

“Is there a similar program for food banks or women’s shelters?”

Note on story context: This story was researched and written after two key events involving Canada’s military: the first Gulf War from 1990-1991; and the Oka Crisis in 1990, where the Canadian Armed Forces confronted an armed group of Mohawk “Warriors” in Oka, Quebec.

More investigative journalism here: 

Peaceniks Questioning Air-Raid Strategy In Bosnia

Somali Killings Reveal Ugly Side Of Elite Regiment

Study Says Jetliner Air Quality Poses Health Risks: CUPE Takes On Airline Industry With Findings Of Survey

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The Big Dump: CP’s New Operational Plan Leaves Critics With Questions Aplenty

By David South

Scan Magazine (Toronto, Canada), June/July, 1997

Gloria Galloway is one of two Canadian Press staffers holding down the Ontario desk one Friday evening in May. She has the jumpy manner you’d expect from an acting news editor entangled in deadlines at the national wire service. She cheerfully describes how cooperative the Northern Ontario newspapers are in filing stories on the federal election campaign. But the reality driving that cooperation is not so cheery. As a result of staff cuts, the only CP reporters available are tied up covering government announcements at the Ontario legislature.

It has been nearly a month since CP’s board of directors gave final approval to a plan to revamp the service. The plan caps a crisis-filled year during which many feared the agency would go belly up. But do the changes make CP’s future any more secure?

On her computer screen, Galloway pulls up a long list of stories filed that day by various member newspapers. It’s an impressive list that suggests the ‘New CP’ concept might work. Certainly Galloway has the stoic, ‘we have to make it work, it’s our job’ attitude that’s common at CP.

Attitude isn’t everything, though. There are serious gaps in the plan that continue to leave CP vulnerable to a future crisis. The new plan calls for CP to rely on its owners – the nearly 90 member papers – to contribute the bulk of its stories, leaving CP acting more like a traffic cop than a traditional wire service. This Faustian deal means a reduced role for CP as a newsgatherer, with a restricted mandate to cover stories newspaper editors can anticipate, like press conferences and court decisions, as well as breaking news.

Beyond that, the plan is short on details. It fails to offer any coherant timetable for its implementation, nor does it address the likelihood, due to declining newspaper circulations, of further reductions in the fees CP’s members pay next year. CP already dropped its fees 25 percent for 1997 to keep Southam Newspapers from leaving the cooperative. The rollback precipitated major staff reductions at CP.

The deal’s most significant achievement is a pledge by all member papers to work with CP to ensure its survival and save everyone money.

Newspaper editors will have to tell CP a day in advance what stories they are covering and who has been assigned. Using this information, so the theory goes, it will be possible to avoid assigning several reporters from competing papers to cover a story when one will do. A reporter will not only be working for his or her own paper that day, but for every CP paper, and will be expected to file updates throughout the day to a CP editor, who in turn will write the story that is then ‘wired’ to all the members. That way, it is hoped, no superfluous stories will be going out on the wire. Member papers will still file analytical and feature stories to CP but, as is the case now, they are under no obligation to give away their prized family jewels – exclusive stories – to other CP papers.

In practical terms, the new approach has been creeping into CP’s way of doing things by stealth rather than command. CP has been increasing its reliance on member papers to pick up the slack when CP reporters aren’t available. The most recent example was the federal election campaign: only one CP reporter was assigned full-time to cover the whole campaign. The rest of the coverage was handled by a combination of CP bureau staff and member paper reporters.

While many smaller papers are dependent on CP for their provincial, national and international stories, the bigger papers, who are the main sources of these stories, can afford to be blase’. Their willingness to co-operate will decide the success or failure of the member-exchange component of CP.

Southam’s vice-president of editorial, Gordon Fisher, maintains his papers will support the plan because it will save his company approximately $2.5 million a year. “We pay a significant amount of money towards this cooperative,” he maintains. “A member exchange is one of the more efficient ways we can find to deliver news without incurring a huge amount of expense.”

“What is CP needs a story earlier than a reporter normally files?” asks managing editor Jane Perves of Halifax’s Chronicle-Herald and Mail-Star. “Theoretically, they should be spending all their time doing the story for our paper.”

Jane Purves is an enthusiastic supporter of CP. Nonetheless she wonders if CP editors will be caught in a contest of wills with editors at member papers. She would like to see a reporter’s CP obligations involve simply calling in a quote or raw data. She would have a problem if a reporter working on a major story for her paper was distracted by CP’s needs.

The Globe and Mail is conidering hiring a full-time co-ordinator to handle the heavy volume of stories that paper generates for CP. Newspaper managers elsewhere are split on the question of whether the plan will increase workloads. The extent that it does so will be a crucial test of their commitment.

Not only will editors need to regularly ‘loan’ reporters to CP, they will have to change how they do things on a daily basis if the plan is to work. Editors will have to file an assignment list one day in advance to CP, a task that could get easily overlooked when papers get hit with multiple big stories.

“It’s pretty minor stuff,” says Perry Beverley, the co-publisher of Brockville’s Recorder and Times. Although the Recorder and Times is an afternoon paper where copy is edited in the morning, Beverley has no plans to switch an editor to an evening shift to fit CP’s deadlines.

Deadlines are a particularly thorny question in a country that spans six time zones. Newspapers on the East coast can file stories at the end of the day and still meet CP deadlines that are pegged at Toronto time. The problem is with newspapers west of Ontario; they will have to file stories well before the end of the day. In the case of B.C., filing will have to be done in the morning so that stories picked up by CP will be ready in time for East coast papers.

The copy will have to go out to CP unedited.

At the Edmonton Sun, editor-in-chief Paul Stanway isn’t sanguine about sending out unedited copy. Stanway had editorial deadlines pushed back to 6 p.m. 18 months ago as part of a re-organization at the paper, but they still mean copy would be sent straight from reporters to CP, where copy needs to be in between 4 p.m. and 9 p.m. Toronto time. Stanway is concerned the CP staff will not have the time to fact-check stories to weed out mistakes, which would reflect poorly on his paper.

The anticipated deadline crunch has been nicknamed “the big dump” in CP circles: a tidal wave of material hitting the wire service’s desks all at once, leaving editors scrambling to do re-writes before newspapers are put to bed.

CP general manager Jim Poling, who vacates he job in June, believes this problem will be solved by the restructuring, not exacerbated by it. “The volume of copy has already dropped significantly,” he says. “We are hoping for a wider spectrum of deadlines. Hopefully you are going to get your copy spread out over a longer period, instead of over the course of a couple of hours. You might not need a massive shift of people to a certain time.”

Poling claims the resolution is in better planning which will result in fewer unwanted stories. Fewer stories, so Poling maintains, means more time for editors to re-write.

At CP’s Winnipeg bureau, Canadian Media Guild vice-president Scott Edmonds is sceptical. He isn’t convinced the slimmed down CP will have the staff to handle what he sees as an increasing workload.

“It sounds like the meatgrinder approach to journalism,”says Edmonds. “There is no way these desks are going to be able to cope with any degree of thoughtfulness with this copy. The pressure is going to be too great.”

Edmonds also sees a bigger problem in staff moral. “The majority of people working for Canadian Press don’t want their career to end up as a re-writer… It will require a lot more attention on the desk for this material, so we will be taking resources away from reporting. In other words, taking somebody away from doing the story to redoing the story.”

CP’s raison d’etre is its ability to turn out stories written in a homogenous national voice that can be tailored for a specific paper’s readers. Another important asset is the agency’s ability to quickly add knowledge and background to stories, drawing on the experience of its reporters and editors. According to Martin O’Hanlon at CP’s Ontario Desk, cut-backs have compromised this ability. Three business reporters have been poached by the Financial Post, including Ian Jack and Sandy Rubin. Over 40 talented reporters and editors took buyouts in the fall of 1996.

This means CP isn’t as well equipped as it once was to turn raw copy from reporters into high-quality journalism that can draw the respect and admiration of its subjects.

“Our reporters are not trained to write for a national audience,” emphasizes Jane Purves in Halifax.

Scott Edmonds doesn’t believe member contributors are a substitute for CP staff. “I’m very concerned about attempting to replace quality staf-written material that caters to a national audience and is written to uniform standards, with material picked up from newspapers that in some cases may be very good, but in some cases may not be of the same quality.”

There is a great deal of confusion over when the plan is supposed to kick in. One camp, which includes Jim Poling, sees it more as a gradual, evolutionary change that will take several years to fine tune. There are others who want to see trial runs. Still others believe there will be a date set for a total national switch-over.

Perry Beverley favours test sites and single switch-over date.

“Once that D-Day time is chosen for the switch-over into the restructured CP,” she says, “there will be an appointed person in the newsroom responsible for sending the schedule to CP.”

Purves favours a gradual switch. “A shot-gun approach might backfire. I’d rather have a gradual approach providing we had a starting date and an aim.”

“We don’t have to have a roll-out day,” says Poling. “But if all the managers and staff rise up and say ‘shit, we need test sites,’ then I will listen. Anybody who is waiting for a date will be disappointed. All of this started a long time ago and is a continuing process that will take a couple of years to get everything in place.”

Seven regional news committees will co-ordinate and oversee this new approach, each one staffed by representatives from member papers and CP. According to the plan, these regional news committees will act as enforcers for the new regime. They will work out the logistics of member exchange and use fines to penalize papers that miss deadlines or obstruct exchange.

How such an approach would work in practice is still up in the air. “At some point everybody is going to act against the interests of the co-op,” maintains Purves. “They will be wondering, ‘will I be fined for this?’”

Nobody contacted by SCAN could tell us what these fines would be, how violations would be investigated or what constituted offences. Purves wondered what deterrence value the fines would have if a paper thought it had acted in its best interests. If paper X decided to hold back a juicy scoop that was supposed to be that day’s CP story, a fine of $2,000 might be worth incurring if it sells more newspapers. It was generally agreed none of these committees would meet until after the federal election at the earliest.

For now, Poling is generally optimistic (though he won’t around past June and a replacement has yet to be found). He is talking about raising salaries for the first time in five years, about hiring new staff, about stabilizing life at CP.

The lower fees have lured back one newspaper group, British Columbia’s Sterling. A trial use of CP stories started at the beginning of May. It remains to be seen whether New Brunswick’s Telegraph Journal/Times Globe papers will return, after pulling out of CP in 1993 and hiring more of its own reporters with the money saved. Publisher Jamie Milne remains coy as to his interest in returning to CP, but Poling thinks a deal will be worked out by the fall.

And what about the mood of the man charged with overseeing CP’s transition? Jim Poling, as some CP staffers like to mention, is losing that cautious reserve managers usually have for talking to the media. He isn’t happy with the state of the print media in Canada.

“There has been a lot of cutting in this industry,” says an audibly frustrated Poling. “The fact of the matter is this: cutting isn’t the only answer to having an efficient operation. There has to be some money available to allow journalists to walk around a bit. People who walk around and poke at things and stare at things write good stories.”

With phones ringing all around us, Galloway begins to think out loud about possible wrinkles in the new CP plan: how newspaper reporters at trials will have to keep leaving the courtroom to file updates for CP, how stories written for local papers will translate for national readers, how hard it can be for local, non-CP reporters to cover elections when they don’t know what questions have been asked elsewhere on the campaign trail.

But Galloway has to get back to work. She has to push the Toronto Star to file a story early so the Hamilton Spectator can pick it up.

Scan magazine was published for media professionals in Toronto, Canada in the 1990s.
“The Big Dump”
Breaking the news to CP staff.
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Take Two Big Doses Of Humanity And Call Me In The Morning

By David South

The Toronto Star (Toronto, Canada), January 1, 1993

“Anybody going into medicine should read a whole bunch of good novels.” Dr. Alvin Newman isn’t kidding. The head of curriculum renewal at the largest English-speaking medical school in the world, the University of Toronto, feels strongly that doctors have been ill-prepared for their profession’s challenges.

How doctors become doctors is being hotly debated as Ontario’s five medical schools institute a potpourri of curriculum reforms. After a century of taking a back seat to scientific achievement, bedside manners and the art of medicine are in vogue again.

“Around the world, medical education is undergoing significant changes,” says Newman. “Medical schools must strike a balance between the incredible explosion of scientific knowledge and re-establish the role of the physician as wise counsel and empathic healer.”

It’s a role that many feel doctors have ignored. An American Medical Association poll, conducted between 1985 and 1988, found that fewer than 50 per cent of respondents said they thought doctors listened well and half believed doctors no longer care as much about patients as they used to.

In response to these criticisms, current reforms are shifting medical education away from reliance on the turn-of-the-century science-based approach, says Professor Jackie Duffin, a medical historian at Queen’s University who helped organize the new curriculum introduced there in 1991.

“In the old days doctors could probably make a diagnosis and tell people what was happening to them, but not do very much for them,” says Newman.

“Yet society had more trust and fondness for physicians than they do now. Much of the condemnation of the medical profession is because we have become the custodians of high-tech medicine.”

While the Ontario government embarks on the most sweeping reforms to health care since the 1966 introduction of comprehensive health insurance in Ontario and the founding of national medicare in 1968, many doctors feel their profession cannot afford to maintain the status quo.

The concensus at Ontario’s five medical schools – U of T, Queen’s, University of Western Ontario, University of Ottawa and McMaster University – has gelled around a belief that doctors need to be as comfortable dealing with people as they are with scientific medicine. To this end, revamped curricula supplement basic science and clinical medicine with emphasis on early exposure to patients, communication skills, psychological issues, medical ethics, medical literacy and health promotion.

These schools hope to produce new doctors to fit into a rapidly-changing health care system – one that many believe will rely far less on large hospitals.

Instead, many procedures will take place in the home or in the day clinics. Expanding community health care care centres will try to tackle extensive social and health problems. This preventive approach ot medical education was pioneered by Hamilton’s McMaster medical school.

Since its founding in 1967, McMaster has experimented with teaching methods that steer away from mass lectures to concentrate on the individual student. The evolution of McMaster’s curriculum has placed greater emphasis on communication skills, psychosocial aspects of medicine, community issues, and disease prevention and health promotion.

How do McMaster students rate against other medical students?

Last year they scored above the national average on licencing exams. A higher proportion of McMaster students enter research and academic medicine than their counterparts from other schools. One study comparing them to U of T suggested they were more motivated to be life-long learners.

Dr. Rosanna Pellizzari practices the kind of medicine everyone is talking about these days. Working out of renovated church, Pellizzari’s practice at the Davenport/Perth Community Health Centre in westend Toronto serves a working class neighbourhood that has been home to generations of recent immigrants.

A member of the Medical Reform Group – which has long advocated significant reforms to health care – and trained at McMaster, Pellizzari can be seen to represent the doctor of the future: Sensitive, salaried and working in community health.

“McMaster’s curriculum attracts people with innovative ideas,” says Pellizzari, who was active in community health education before going to medical school. “It is a very supportive environment.

“I think the important question is: Who do we choose to be medical students? They should open up medical schools to those who know what it’s like to be a parent, a mother or disabled. Doctors should represent the population they serve. We are still getting mostly white, inexperienced young males as physicians. They aren’t going to practice the way that is necessary.”

In Ontario, many doctors see the 1986 doctors’ strike as a watershed for public opinion.

As a result of the negative fallout from the strike and perceived gap between physicians andhe public they serve, a five-year project entitled Educating Future Physicians for Ontario became a major advocate for reform.

Started in 1988, EFPO has examined fundamental issues in designing and implementing new medical school curricula. These issues include defining societal health care needs and expectations, faculty development and student evaluation. While each medical school has adapted reforms to its particular situation, EFPO hopes to prod further reforms.

“This is a unique venture in Canada, and could have implications far beyond Ontario if successful,” says Dr. William Seidelman, a key player in EFPO. “It captures the unique sense of the Canadian scene, and will build on the implied contact in the Canadian health system.”

Pellizzari sees the attitude of medical schools and teaching hospitals towards medical students as a significant factor in creating insensitive doctors. She recalls the high rate of suicide among medical students and the abusive work environment that forces doctors-in-training to work shifts unthinkable for other workers.

“The way we train doctors is inhumane,” she says. “We don’t expect other workers to put in 30-hour shifts. It creates in new physicians the attitude that they paid their dues and now society owes them.”

Many critics feel that changing training methods isn’t enough; the whole ethos and selection process must be changed. If doctors are to better serve the population, they must better reflect it.

“We are getting very close to gender equality and a laudable distribution of ethnic and racial backgrounds,” says Newman. “But students still come from a fairly narrow social spectrum,  very middle class kids. Their exposure to the extremes of society, to poverty, to homelessness and related illnesses have been very limited.”

Pellizzari found how out-of-date the medical profession was in her first year. One teacher wanted her to work till 10 at night. When told that she needed 24 hours notice for a babysitter, the teacher shot back that motherhood and medicine don’t mix.

“I was a mother before I was a physician. When I get a call at night from a mother, I understand this. With 30 per cent of visits to doctors having no biological basis – like depression due to unemployment – you can’t do anything unless you have experienced life.

“If we don’t address this, you can design the best training in the world, but things won’t change.”

But Newman also feels many factors outside of medical school discourage a more diverse student body.

“To go through medical school in the United States requires large indebtedness. That’s not true in Canada. You can calculate what a year of medical school costs in terms of a finite number of CDs, a leather jacket and ghetto blaster. So something is dissuading people from pursuing this career, and it isn’t money.”

While there is a concensus among academics that medical schools haven’t prepared doctors well enough, there is little support for a dramatic change in selection criteria. “I can’t muster a lot of support from colleagues for serious changes,” says Newman.

Dr. Jock Murray, the former dean of Dalhousie medical school in Halifax, recently told an EFPO meeting he doesn’t see any significant changes ahead.

“Physicians have a reputation for being conservative and self-serving,” says Murray. “If reform is going to be successful we have to be clear that it is about what is good for the people.”

Pellizzari believes life experience and empathy with social circumstances just can’t be taught.

“I grew up in this neighbourhood. I understand their powerlessness, the conditions. Doctors have to see themselves as a member of a team of health professionals, not as the top of the social and medical totem pole.”

U of T’s experience is a classic example of the hurdles ahead. Newman admits it has come as a shock to students loaded with society’s ingrained expectations.

“They spend half a day a week in the community seeing things like drug rehab clinics and community health centres. But being out in the community doesn’t make the students feel comfortable. Their image of what they are going to do involves big buildings, chrome and steel, scurrying personnel and banks of computers.”

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CASE STUDY 1: Investigative Journalism | 1991 – 1997

Case Study 1 badge 2.0.png

Expertise: Investigative journalism, editing, start-ups, content and magazine design, digital content, digital strategy.

Locations: Toronto and Guelph, Ontario, Canada and London, UK 1991 to 1997

Investigative Journalist, Editor, Reporter, Writer: David South

Click here to view images for this case study: CASE STUDY 1: Journalism | 1991 – 1997 Images

Abstract

I worked as a journalist for magazines and newspapers from 1991 to 1997 in Canada and the United Kingdom and as a radio host for a weekly spoken word interview programme, Word of Mouth (CKLN-FM). This included working as an investigative journalist for Now Magazine, “Toronto’s alternative news and entertainment source”, as a Medical and Health Correspondent for Today’s Seniors, and as an investigative journalist and reporter for two Financial Times newsletters, New Media Markets and Screen Finance.  

Samples of published stories can be found here (below) and on the Muck Rack platform here: https://muckrack.com/david-south

About

Could it be possible to do high-quality investigative journalism in the context of a shrinking economy undergoing austerity, and where the media sector is contracting and consolidating around a small number of media companies? Is it possible to launch new media products in the face of a contracting economy and reach new audiences and create new markets?

In Canada, the early to mid 1990s were the years of government austerity and economic crisis. After the crash of 1989/1990*, institutions came under great stress. Health care, for example, was pitched into a period of turmoil and change. Drawing on my experience working in the health sector (Princess Margaret Hospital/Ontario Cancer Institute), I covered this crisis in many stories for various publications, in particular Today’s Seniors.

The Canadian economy severely contracted and unemployment was at 11.4 per cent by 1993 (Statistics Canada), and as Statistics Canada says, “Because employment recovered at a snail’s pace after the recession of the early 1990s, the decline in the unemployment rate was delayed until 1994”. 

The media in general could not avoid the wider economic crisis. According to the book The Missing News: Filters and Blind Spots in Canada’s Press (Robert A. Hackett and Richard S. Garneau, Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, University of Toronto Press 2000), Canada’s media was also in a crisis throughout the 1990s, as declining resources, staff layoffs and media closures reduced the breadth and depth of news coverage. Canadian media as a whole also has a “great dependence on advertising, which accounts for more than 70% of daily newspaper revenues, about 64% of magazine revenues,” which means there is enormous pressure to only publish stories that do not upset advertisers. And monopolies exert great control over news content in Canada: “In the United States, ten companies control 43.7% of total daily newspaper circulation. By contrast, in Canada since 1996, one single company controls a comparable share of the media pie.”

The impact of this crisis was summed up by Jeffrey Simpson in the book The Missing News, where he said newspapers are “shrinking in size, personnel, ambition and, as a consequence, in their curiosity,” …. “I believe the result has been a diminution in quality.” (p64)

This is the context in which, ironically, it was possible to flourish as a much-sought-after investigative journalist who could get the story and get the quotes and as an editor. And it was also a time for opportunity, in particular as new media rose in importance, from cable and satellite television, to the rise of the Internet.

I broke original stories for Now Magazine as a member of their investigative reporting team, for Today’s Seniors as its Medical and Health Correspondent, and as a reporter for two Financial Times newsletters in London, UK. I also broke original stories as a freelancer for many other magazines and newspapers, including Hospital News, The Toronto Star, This Magazine, The Annex Gleaner, Flare, The Financial Post Magazine, Canadian Living, and others. I drew on strong contacts in health care, media, politics, international relations and the military. 

I was an editor for magazines, newspapers and newsletters as well, gaining invaluable experience and contacts. This included as Editor-in-Chief for start-up youth publication, Watch Magazine (see Case Study 2), and as Features Editor for Id Magazine (see Case Study 3). 

Themes covered included the uses – and abuses – of data, the impact of military engagements to uphold international law, how to re-structure health care when budgets are tight, with populations ageing, and technology and scientific advances quickly expanding options, the emerging new media world of cable and satellite television and the Internet, the sexual revolution 2.0, urbanization and how it re-shapes politics and community, international development, and youth culture. 

Story highlights include covering data concerns over Canada’s border screening measures, questions about the air quality of aircraft cabins, the debate over airstrikes in Bosnia, scandals involving peacekeepers in Somalia and reporting on the UN peacekeeping mission in Haiti, reforms to medical education in Canada, innovators in health care, the tug of war over health care spending during austerity measures, London, UK designers, the growing role of Nordic countries in cable and satellite television, the film financing scene in Europe and the UK, the new sexual revolution and its impact on cable and satellite television and the rising Internet, changes to Canada’s media industry, and Toronto’s embracing of the megacity concept and the political battles it sparked. 

I edited newsletters and newspapers aimed at specific communities, from Canada’s medical history community to part-time students. And had the privilege of helming a start-up youth magazine as its Editor-in-Chief to its commercial success (see Case Study 2). 

It was an exciting time of great change, best reflected by the fact in 1997 Id Magazine (Features Editor: see Case Study 3) was one of the first Canadian publications to regularly publish an online version (https://web-beta.archive.org/web/19970207103121/www.idmagazine.com).  

* “The last two recessions in Canada occurred in 1982 and 1990. … The most recent Canadian recession began in the second quarter of 1990 and over the next 12 months GDP fell by 3.2%. … The recovery from this recession was unusually slow; there was almost no growth between mid-1991 and mid-1992. This slow recovery was export driven.” (The Canadian Encyclopedia)

 “In early 1994, Canada’s economic situation was not that favourable—our economy was facing some rather serious problems.

 “… the recession here was more severe than in the United States.

“Working their way out of these difficulties was disruptive and painful for Canadian businesses. Defaults, restructurings, and downsizings became the order of the day. With all this, unemployment took a long time to recover from the 1990–91 recession and, in many instances, wages and salaries were frozen or reduced (Bank of Canada: Canada’s Economic Future: What Have We Learned from the 1990s?)

A small sample of published stories with links is below:  

Investigative Journalism 

An Abuse of Privilege?

Aid Organization Gives Overseas Hungry Diet Food

Artists Fear Indifference From Megacity

Casino Calamity: One Gambling Guru Thinks The Province Is Going Too Far

Counter Accusations Split Bathurst Quay Complex: Issues of Sexual Assault, Racism at Centre of Local Dispute

False Data Makes Border Screening Corruptible

New Student Group Seeks 30 Percent Tuition Hike

Peaceniks Questioning Air-raid Strategy in Bosnia

Safety at Stake

Somali Killings Reveal Ugly Side of Elite Regiment

Study Says Jetliner Air Quality Poses Health Risks: CUPE Takes on Airline Industry with Findings on Survey

Top Reporters Offer Military Media Handling Tips

Will the Megacity Mean Mega-privatization?

Will Niagara Falls Become the Northern Vegas?

Health and Medical

Changing Health Care Careers a Sign of the Times

Critics Blast Government Long-Term Care Reforms

Cut Services to Elderly, Says Doctors’ Survey … But Leave Our Salaries Alone!

Feds Call for AIDS, Blood System Inquiry: Some Seniors Infected

Government Urged to Limit Free Drugs for Seniors

Health Care on the Cutting Block: Ministry Hopes for Efficiency with Search and Destroy Tactics

Health Care in Danger

Lamas Against AIDS

New Legislation Will Allow Control of Medical Treatment

New Seniors’ Group Boosts ‘Grey Power’: Grey Panthers Chapter Opens with a Canadian Touch

Philippine Conference Tackles Asia’s AIDS Crisis

Private Firms Thrive as NDP ‘Reinvents’ Medicare

Psychiatric Care Lacking for Institutionalised Seniors

Seniors Falling Through the Health Care Cost Cracks

Specialists Want Cancer Treatments Universally Available

Take Two Big Doses of Humanity and Call Me in the Morning

Taking Medicine to the People: Four Innovators In Community Health

US Health Care Businesses Chasing Profits into Canada

Magazines

The Ethics of Soup: Grading Supermarket Shelves – For Profit

Freaky – The 70s Meant Something

Land of the Free, Home of the Bored

Man Out Of Time: The World Once Turned On the Ideas of this Guelph Grad, But Does the Economist John Kenneth Galbraith Know the Way Forward?

Oasis Has Arrogance, A Pile of Attitude and the Best Album of 1994

Porn Again: More Ways to Get Off, But Should We Regulate the Sex Industry?

Redneck Renaissance: A Coterie of Journalists Turn Cracker Culture into a Leisure Lifestyle

Safety at Stake

Swing Shift: Sexual Liberation is Back in Style

Time Machines

Too Black

Media 

The Big Dump: CP’s New Operational Plan Leaves Critics with Questions Aplenty

Channel Regulation: Swedes will Fight Children’s Advertising all the Way

Do TV Porn Channels Degrade and Humiliate?

Is the UK Rushing to Watch TV Porn? 

Playboy ‘is not for sad and lonely single men’

TV’s Moral Guide in Question – Again

UK Laws on Satellite Porn Among Toughest in Europe

Undercurrents: A Cancellation at CBC TV Raises a Host of Issues for the Future

Special Reports

From Special Report: NMM (New Media Markets) Spotlight on the Emergence of Satellite Porn Channels in the UK

From Special Report: Sexual Dealing: Today’s Sex Toys Are Credit Cards & Cash: A Report on the Sex-for-Money Revolution

United Nations

Freedom of Expression: Introducing Investigative Journalism to Local Media in Mongolia

Starting from Scratch: The Challenge of Transition

State of Decay: Haiti Turns to Free-market Economics and the UN to Save Itself

Traffic Signs Bring Safety to the Streets

Magazines

Watch Magazine

Id Magazine

Newsletters

Hannah Institute for the History of Medicine

New Media Markets

Screen Finance

Blue Sky Bulletin

Other Resources

Ger Magazine: Issue 1

Ger Magazine: Issue 2

In Their Own Words: Selected Writings by Journalists on Mongolia, 1997-1999 (ISBN 99929-5-043-9) 

Mongolian Rock and Pop Book (ISBN 99929-5-018-8) 

Wild East: Travels in the New Mongolia (ISBN 1-55022-434-4)

Timeline 

1991: Begin career as investigative journalist and editor.

1992: Work as a Medical and Health Reporter for Today’s Seniors and as an Investigative Journalist for Now Magazine. Work as Editor and Writer for the Hannah Institute for the History of Medicine’s newsletter. 

1993: Published in many publications, including The Toronto Star, Canadian Living and This Magazine.

1994: Work on re-launch of Watch Magazine 2.0 and its expansion (see Case Study 2). 

1995: Work as reporter for two Financial Times newsletters in London, UK.

1996: Work on re-launch of Watch Magazine 3.0 and its expansion. Begin work at Id Magazine as its Features Editor (see Case Study 3).

1997: Begin two-year assignment with the United Nations mission in Mongolia (see Case Study 4). 

Testimonials 

David South … proved himself to be a penetrating, thorough and hard-working journalist. He produced a lot of very good stories …” Neil McCartney, Editor, Screen Finance, Telecom Markets and Mobile Communications, London, UK

© David South Consulting 2017