Interview Series: Shauna Rempel of Global News

In October 2017, the Global News investigation Canada’s Toxic Secret shone a light on pollution in Sarnia, Ontario. The city and its surrounding region, including the Aamjiwnaang First Nation, is popularly known as Chemical Valley due to its high concentration of petrochemical facilities. Global News investigated how recent chemical leaks and spills may be contributing to illness among local residents.

The impactful project lead to funding for a new health study on the impacts of air pollution in the Sarnia region. It’s also received many awards, including the Gold award for Best Social Storytelling at the 2018 Digital Publishing Awards.

With content shared across Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, Instagram, and Medium, Canada’s Toxic Secret was able to reach a wide audience of Canadians. We spoke to Global News’ Shauna Rempel about the important role of social media in the investigation.

A Global News image used to promote the Toxic Secret project on Facebook.

I was curious to hear about the social media perspective behind the project, since you won the DPA award for Best Social Storytelling. Can you tell me about your role working on social?

I’m the national managing editor for social media and distribution, so I’m taking a look at it from more of a management perspective. I’m the editor for a lot of these things, but also assigning them to people on my team or attending the meetings for some of these bigger projects—attending the meetings and representing the social media team to give feedback as to how we want to approach it.

I was in months and months of meetings. This was quite a lengthy investigation and it involved not just Global News; it was a co-production with students from Ryerson and Concordia journalism schools, and of course the Toronto Star and a few other organizations.

Pretty much everyone on my team had some sort of part in the project, whether helping to create some of the graphics that went out on social media, or captioning the videos or distributing the videos, or adding to a Twitter thread, or moderating some of the comments and checking out the feedback that we were getting from the audience. It was a real group effort.

About how long did the project take to create?

The investigation was months in the making. On the social desk you tend to be involved more in the later stages of things. But Carolyn Jarvis, who was the lead journalist on this whole project, she’s very good at getting everyone involved. So I was getting regular updates from her.

But it was more in September that things started to really ramp up and we looked at all the elements—and there was a lot of video, a lot of images, just a lot of material to go through, and figure out what was going to work for what platform. We did it in three stages. That was the first time we did it in this way, and it’s actually become the template for all of our big rollouts for our big projects. All of our social rollouts now have some version of this template.

We did a pre-social treatment to try and get people excited and interested in it. And then when all the elements were coming out, different stories, different aspects of it, we were sharing it and sometimes re-sharing it the day it was published. Then afterwards we were doing more of a look back. It was being discussed by politicians; there was some fallout from it. So that provided opportunities to not only share the latest elements, but to say, “Now this has happened, as a result of this investigation.” To also share, “In case you missed it, here’s the full documentary again, here’s our main post about it.”

I was curious about the response you saw on social media after the initial push.

There was a lot of discussion amongst the opposition party, and Ontario’s environmental watchdog, who had condemned the fact that there was this population living so close to these known polluters and nothing seemed to be happening. It did lead to, in the aftermath, proposals for new standards to control air pollution. And we did a follow-up, about a year later. Some things had changed, but actually not a whole lot, in a year’s time since we did the initial investigation.

What kind of responses did you get from members of the public?

We had a lot of people discussing it, coming out in one way or another. There was a lot of sympathy amongst the viewers, I think, especially those who were watching the videos. We got messages to that effect. Some of it was people wondering why people were living in that area in the first place, and that started a good conversation, because then you would actually have other people weighing in on, well, maybe they grew up there, that sort of thing. Or, why shouldn’t they live there?

There was a good discussion in that regard, which is what we want. We want a talker. We like it when there’s actually more of a nuanced discussion instead of everyone sort of having a straightforward answer to it. We had over a million, 1.3 million views on the videos that we posted to Facebook, so that was a good indicator to us, too, that people were watching, that they were consuming it on social media.

People were weighing in and talking about pollution where they lived, and their concerns, as well. Folks were either sharing their own stories or comparing it; saying that they too had concerns about pollution, or they were happy to be living somewhere where things were better monitored.

We want this to be something that people can relate to. The videos, the images that we chose—we really wanted this to be something that people could relate to. The idea that someone’s young son got cancer and died after a very short battle with cancer, that’s something that goes beyond any particular city. That’s a universal experience that people could relate to, just the grief of losing a child so suddenly to cancer. That’s the sort of thing we’re trying to tap into, really tapping into the universal themes and the emotion behind it; while also, of course, we’re presenting the facts.

It was a lengthy investigation and there was lots and lots of information. But when sharing it with a social audience you really want to make sure you’re getting the attention, not just with facts and figures but also with people, with human emotion and human experience.

What sort of considerations you have to take into account—if you’re making this for broadcast, how will it work if you’re putting part of it on Facebook, or putting it on YouTube? Is that something that comes into play during the production?

For the documentary itself, it was really more with broadcast in mind. It was more when we were doing the shorter clips that we were really thinking about which ones would work best for a social audience. Our YouTube channel is quite strong, but we weren’t completely sure how many views we would be getting on YouTube. So I think the primary focus for that element was going to be for broadcast first and then seeing what we could put in, either extended interviews or various clips that we could do for a social audience.

A Global News social image featuring a local activist interviewed for the Toxic Secret report.

You mentioned the social process you used for this has become the template you’re using for future stories.

We don’t call it the Toxic Secret template, but we have found this was a good way of approaching anything. Not just our investigative stories, but if we had, let’s say a weeklong feature series that we’re rolling out, we’ve done this for several since then.

We’ve done this pretty much every time we have a major project that’s being published. We always do something ahead of time to tease it with content, to actually give people a bit of a fuller taste of it. And then of course the rolling out throughout the week, or as we have updates, and then trying to do more of a wrap-up, a look back on it. It can take various forms, it depends on the project and the elements. It’s not always a cookie cutter thing, one size fits all. That’s why I say it’s a template, but we do vary it, depending on what we’ve got and what’s available when and where the story leads us to.

Another example is #FirstTimeIWasCalled—this project was very social-focused, we were asking public figures and also the public to share their first brushes with discrimination. All stemming from a story that one of our anchors had about the first time she was called a slur, the first time she was judged by her skin colour. We found we had so much reaction to that that our wrap up just kind of kept going and going because we couldn’t fit it all. We would do one story wrapping up social media reactions, and then we’d send that out on our social channels, and then it would bring in more reactions so we would end up doing another round of it. That’s a great problem to have.

Or sometimes with this Toxic Secret project, we were getting a lot of reactions from politicians. There was a pledge that new standards for air pollution were going to be developed and released. So that gave us something more, something new to report on.

Do you find that there are certain stories, maybe like this one for example, that are more suited to social?

We do find that with the stories that immediately elicit a reaction, and that does tend to be ones that are people-focused, rather than ones that are focused on policy or process. Of course those are important stories as well.

But we do always want to get to the person involved and try to play them up big on social media. So I’m often the one saying—and everyone else has this instinct as well—if we don’t have a photo of someone who’s been interviewed for the story, then we have a problem. We make sure we have a photo of someone, if they’re telling their story, we make sure we play that up on the social media channels. So that people can relate to that person.

Is there anything else you’d like to share about the project?

I would reiterate that it was really a group effort, there were a lot of hands involved with it, and so I’m very pleased that it was recognized in this way. You don’t do any of these things for the awards, you don’t do it for the rewards, but it is nice to see hard work being recognized in this way.

I’m very happy that an award like this exists, because the social media aspect of things has become so ingrained in everything that we do; every aspect of our lives, every aspect of every industry, but especially in the media industry. But it almost gets taken as a given. There’s not always a lot of thought or understanding into what actually is involved with making the things that appear in your Facebook newsfeed or show up on Twitter or pop up in your Instagram feed. So it’s nice to see that work, which is largely behind the scenes, get recognized.

That’s so true. Do you think that social media will continue to be a major part of your work at Global, and continue to be a crucial component of sharing stories?

I do. I think that algorithms come and go, and there’s always some new flavour of the week that might appear on social media, and maybe some folks will shut down their accounts in protest—we’ve definitely weathered some storms when it comes to social media—but I really think it’s so ingrained. I think more these days of social media as just one of many distribution channels. It’s another way that people consume our content and learn about the world. I don’t think that’ll ever go away. It can evolve and change, and it should, because that’s what it’s been doing up until now. But I think it’s still going to be a very vital, very important part of what we do, of how we tell stories.

Interview conducted by Jill Blackmore Evans.

Finalists for the 4th Annual Digital Publishing Awards will be announced on May 2, 2019. Follow us on Twitter for the most up-to-date news. 

Interview Series: Matthew Halliday of The Deep

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At last year’s Digital Publishing Awards, The Deep took home the award for General Excellence in Digital Publishing, in the Small Publications category. Founded in Halifax in 2017, The Deep Magazine grew out of co-founders’ Matthew Halliday and Chelsea Murray’s desire to create a home for impactful long form journalism in Atlantic Canada. The publication has quickly carved out a niche of carefully researched and reported pieces that bring to light “stories that don’t otherwise get told,” as executive editor Halliday puts it. 

We called Halliday in Halifax to learn more about the story behind The Deep, the challenges and rewards of running a publication that focuses on one region, and what it was like to take home a DPA. 

Could you tell us a bit about how The Deep was founded?

I am the co-founder, along with my partner Chelsea. Chelsea and I met in Toronto as magazine stream students in the Ryerson Master of Journalism program. We were mutual fans of deep dive, narrative long-form. Then we became personal partners there. I’m from Alberta, and she’s from New Brunswick, and she wanted to move out east. So about five years ago we did that. We worked in communications jobs and did freelance work—I’m now a full-time freelance journalist, as well as executive editor of The Deep.

We came out here and realized, Toronto and southern Ontario are pretty well served, comparatively, by magazines, but there isn’t a robust magazine culture across Canada in different regions, necessarily. So we wanted to bring that deep dive narrative writing to the East Coast; to provide a place where writers who had the chops and the experience and the desire to do it, could do it and get paid decently to [write] here, about this region.

You know The Atavist Magazine—that was kind of the model to begin with, one big story a month. We started it up in partnership with The Coast magazine, which is the alt weekly here in Halifax—like the NOW Magazine of Halifax—they provided some in-kind support, some resources, mentorship, that kind of thing. It’s a partnership with them, but editorially independent. And rather than just covering the city here, we cover all four provinces. We launched with a Kickstarter in October 2016, and then spent the winter of 2016-2017 working away at our first crop of stories, and then launched last August.

The Deep Magazine cofounders Matthew Halliday, Executive Editor, and Chelsea Murray, Editor
The Deep Magazine co-founders, Matthew Halliday and Chelsea Murray

What do you feel are the specific challenges of operating this kind of publication with a regional focus, or specifically with a regional focus on Atlantic Canada? What makes it different from a publication that caters to the whole country?

It is a drawback and a strength, in a way, that we have a narrower audience. It’s a much smaller audience than a national publication would have— there are 2.5 million people in the Atlantic region.

This is a region that’s sort of off the editorial map of Canada. The Globe went several years without even having anyone here in the Atlantic bureau. It’s a place that doesn’t get covered a lot, and when it does get covered it’s often from a stereotypical kind of perspective. A lot of parachute journalism; a lot of reporting that plays off stereotypes of the place that are maybe outdated, or don’t reflect the way people live here.

We get to tell the stories that don’t get told otherwise. And readers here have really responded. So I think focusing on a region that’s off the map a bit actually is a strength, because people here are really hungry for that kind of thing.

Illustration of two shadowy figures walking away from a countryside home at night.
Illustration by Aziza Asat for The Deep, from Oscar Baker III’s story “A History of Violence”

Why do you think that might be the case, that this region gets sort of overlooked by other media?

Canadian media is highly concentrated in Toronto, and so there’s sort of a lack of awareness, often. I worked in Toronto media for years, and I know tons of people there, and I love them. I love the city, and I love the media and journalism community there. But nevertheless there is certainly sometimes a myopia that can develop when everybody’s in one place.

Even when people come from across the country, people develop that myopia sometimes. There’s sort of a lack of awareness, and a lack of interest in what’s going on elsewhere. Or the interest in what’s going on in that one part of the country gets conflated with national interests.

And then there’s the pure business case—it’s a smaller region. The GTA is three times the population of the entire Atlantic region, so there’s that as well.

Image of person in black winter clothing walking in snowy mountain landscape.
Photo of Labrador by Jennie Williams for The Deep, from Matthew Halliday’s recent story “Homeland.”

You mentioned that you’re also working freelance; what’s it like balancing that with full-time editorial work?

Very difficult [laughs]. I worked at St Mary’s University, which is one of the universities in the city here, doing a communications role with them, and I left that earlier this year to go full-time freelance, and it’s been a great choice. I’ve had a lot of luck and success and it’s been really good.

Part of the reason I did that was so I could spend more time on The Deep. I didn’t want to be balancing a nine to five office job with The Deep and freelance.

The Deep is basically run out of Chelsea’s and my attic in our house. It’s kind of: work all day and The Deep at night, sort of thing. There is no separation, really. It’s a lot of work. We do love the work though! To work with some of the best writers in the region, to develop these editorial relationships and this back and forth and process of revision that doesn’t really happen a lot… Working on a story for six or eight months—which is not something that I think a lot of writers here get a chance to do, unless they’re writing for an out of region publication—that’s really rewarding and fun.

What are the challenges of working on stories for such a long time? It must present some different challenges from pieces that have a fast turnaround.

Part of it is, you want to make sure you’re doing something that is timely. It’s the same challenge that anyone would have at any major magazine, where there’s six months or a year lead times. But specifically out here, a lot of writers haven’t done that, maybe. It’s new to a lot of writers. You’re going to be working on this for half a year, it’s going to require a whole bunch of revision—that’s not something that a lot of people have done, necessarily. That can be new.

But yeah, just making sure it’s a story that is going to be relevant when it’s finally published. Making sure no one else picks up on it. Then again, that is the benefit of working in a region that doesn’t kind of get the coverage it deserves: you don’t get scooped as much.

GE Small The Deep

You won the DPA for General Excellence in a small publication, and this is the award for a magazine that best fulfills its editorial mandate. I was wondering if you could say a bit about The Deep’s editorial mandate. What are its goals?

To tell those stories that don’t otherwise get told. In bullet form: to tell fascinating, entertaining, compelling, and important stories about this region that don’t otherwise get told. They don’t have to be East Coast-y in any particular way. The only stipulation is that there’s something that happened here, or that there’s some connection.

For example, we had a piece a few months ago—the writer [Oscar Baker III] is part Mi’kmaq, from the Elsipogtog First Nation in New Brunswick, and part African-American, and grew up in Florida. His piece was mostly set in Florida, and talked about growing up in that world; the tension between those two cultures that informed his upbringing. So that was mostly in the southeastern United States, but there was that Atlantic connection.

What was it like, the experience of winning the award? What did that mean for you and everyone that collaborates with you?

It was great. Our readership has been really good, we have strong readership, so we know that people are out there reading the magazine. But we’re in a bit of a bubble. Chelsea and I are just working in our attic most of the time, separated from the world. We see feedback—we see traffic on the site, and we see feedback online, and that’s all great. But it feels sort of depersonalized, kind of distant, out there. So to be recognized by our peers in the industry is fantastic.

To go back to Toronto and see a lot of the people we worked with at magazines there, and have them saying, “Hey, this is a great thing you’re doing.” To be recognized by the publishing and magazine world is really very gratifying. We’re not in it for the awards, but it definitely gives us a boost to let us know that people are out there paying attention, and we’re doing something worthwhile.


Cover illustration by Aziza Asat for The Deep Magazine, from Chelsea Murray’s story “Joe and the Whale.”

Interview conducted by Jill Blackmore Evans.

Submissions for the 2019 Digital Publishing Awards will open on January 2, 2019. Click here for everything you need to know about submitting an entry, and follow us on Twitter for the most up-to-date news. 

 

 

Winners’ Circle: an exclusive event from the National Media Awards Foundation

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On Tuesday, May 29, the NMAF will present Winners’ Circle, a special event that will bring together award-winning and nominated writers, editors, artists, art directors to meet, mingle, pitch and learn about the value of diversity.

All Digital Publishing Awards winners, and past and current finalists are invited to join us at One King West Hotel in Toronto, from 12pm to 2:30pm for this exciting learning and networking activity. The event is FREE and includes a lunch for attendees.

The Value of Diversity: A Panel Discussion
The two-part event will begin with a panel discussion moderated by the national columnist for StarMetro, Vicky Mochama. A regular columnist for the Toronto Star, Vicky writes about issues at the intersections of race, politics, gender and migration.

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Vicky will be joined by panel members Andree LauEternity MartisHadiya Roderique and Kyle Edwards for a discussion around the theme of diversity in the media.

Fast Pitch
After the panel presentation, it’s time to mingle and network with your peers. We’ll be facilitating introductions between writers, artists, editors and art directors. If you’re planning to attend and would like to have a chance to sit down with an award-winning writer/artist or an award-winning magazine editor or art director, let us know: events@magazine-awards.com.

We’re looking forward to welcoming you on May 29 from 12 to 2:30pm at One King West Hotel in downtown Toronto.

All nominees and winners from the Digital Publishing Awards and the National Magazine Awards are invited to attend. Contact us to RSVP or request more information. Please RSVP by May 23. Space is limited and available on a first come basis.

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Interview Series: Denise Balkissoon and Hannah Sung

In this installment of our interview series, we catch up with Denise Balkissoon and Hannah Sung, the co-creators and co-hosts of “Colour Code,” a 2017 DPA-winning podcast. Episodes covered hate-crimes, race and real estate, “white fragility” and more.

Throughout the series, Denise and Hannah spoke with various guests from British-Sri Lankan musician and pop provocateur M.I.A. to Cameron Bailey, artistic director of the Toronto International Film Festival, aiming to “crack the code” of talking about race in Canada. You can download the podcast or listen to it here.

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Can you describe how and when this project began and what it took for it to go from an idea to a fully formed and downloadable podcast?

Denise: In fall 2015, the Globe’s masthead put out a call for proposals for special projects, and Hannah approached me to pitch alongside her. I found podcasts an exciting and innovative format and suggested one about Canadian identity, which we made more specific to the topic of race. Our proposal was immediately accepted, and we launched our first episode in September 2016. In between there was reporting, wrangling Tim Moore as our sound producer, asking for more money and time, killing a few episodes, meeting a lot of very smart people.

Hannah: It wasn’t easy to juggle our jobs with this new project but we aligned ourselves with incredibly talented and hard-working people and made ourselves into a little team of five (Timothy Moore, Danielle Webb, Katrina Bolak, Denise and myself) along with the support of senior editors including Kevin Siu and some dedicated peer-listeners. Then we put our heads down and worked on it for pretty much all of 2016. 

What went into deciding what episodes were developed?

Denise: We had a very, very long list of interesting topics that we did initial research on. Final episodes had a combination of timeliness, interesting guests and compelling audio.

Hannah: The blueprint for the podcast came out of our original proposal. Topics didn’t change very much. There were a few that we proposed but didn’t follow through on and that was simply a matter of workload. 

What ideas didn’t make it into an episode?

Denise: I had wanted to do an episode on social media and digital life, but eventually we didn’t think it was specifically Canadian enough.

Hannah: The one I’ve always wanted to do, in any format, is about how the Internet shapes the way we talk to each other, including about race. I always compare how people talk to each other in a Twitter-spat versus what they’d have the nerve to say in person. I wonder about what’s good and what’s bad and why we are the way we are.

What was the most difficult episode to produce and why?

Denise: Probably the first episode, Race Card. As a non-Indigenous person, I thought it was an essential element of a Canada-specific podcast, but it’s also a huge topic area that I’m only beginning to approach as a journalist. The stakes were very high.

Hannah: The Sutton episode, which is called Surface Tension. It was about revisiting a hate crime called “nipper-tipping” (sorry, it’s extremely offensive, but I’m just going to use the word the local kids used when they targeted and assaulted Asian people who were fishing, shoving them in the water and taking their gear — it’s their word, not mine). This episode was more documentary-style, which was like holding many juggling balls in the air in your head at the same time or at least it was for me. But it was also the most satisfying.

We were never able to do what we set out to do, which was to have a face-to-face conversation with Trevor Middleton, a man who went to jail after one of these brawls that led to a car chase and accident that nearly killed someone and definitely tore lives apart. Trevor’s mother ended up calling me to curtly tell me to go away but my recorder wasn’t plugged into my phone so I had to relay that conversation in my script. Not a good moment. Don’t know that she would have given me permission to record anyway but still.

I met with the family of one of the victims in that accident, Shayne Berwick, and the way his entire family’s lives have been upended was difficult to hear, not to mention all the friends who were in the car that night, some of whom spoke to me, on and off the record. Besides the technical and narrative challenges, I was approaching this episode with an open attitude, holding it open so that if we ever met with Trevor, we could have a conversation in which I wasn’t coming from a place of judgment, just curiosity. And trust me, that was hard. 

Can you describe the most memorable moment you’ve taken from the process of producing the podcast?

Denise: It’s been really affirming to engage with such an enthusiastic audience. A mom told me that she and her 12 year old listened to the show together and then discussed race and racism in Canada. That’s amazing.

What did you learn about audio storytelling through this process?

Hannah: As my friend and amazing podcast producer Kasia Mychajlowycz said to me once, making a podcast is like making a TV show. Same amount of work and heavy-lifting, just without the pictures. That’s freeing in a way because the best pictures are the ones that exist in your mind, anyway. But it’s no less work. The range of what you can do in audio storytelling is pretty amazing. But talk-style podcasts are way easier to do.

Denise: Always carry spare batteries.

What did it mean for you to be recognized at the Digital Publishing Awards?

Denise: It was cool that all the nominees were podcasts by women. Podcasts are such a lovely format for intimate stories, it’s nice to see them get recognition.

Hannah: It’s nice to be recognized by your industry peers and I recognize that awards have currency in the workplace. But awards don’t mean much compared to feedback and the kind of comments and letters we got was next level. It was extremely gratifying to meet people and hear from those who connected with what we were doing and whose eyes were opened up to a new understanding of our own history and the way we are living today. People still have a problem talking about race, obviously. We need more conversations about race, not less, and with a higher degree of knowledge and less emotion. I hope the DPA for Colour Code showed other journalists that talking about race with intelligence and literacy is something we should be running toward, not away from.

What has changed in a year?

Denise: Discussions of race and racism have become more commonplace, but also much more contentious. These are difficult times, and I hope that Colour Code has given a few people a bit of a foundation to discuss these issues in Canada, where people still do have an Angel Complex, which was the term we used to refer to comparing this country to the US.

If there were to be a season two of Colour Code, what issues would you like to speak to?

Denise: Relations between racialized immigrants and Indigenous people.


Denise Balkissoon is a weekly Opinion columnist and a reporter in the Globe’s Toronto section. The National Magazine Award-winning writer is also a co-founder of The Ethnic Aisle, a blog about race and ethnicity in the Greater Toronto Area.

Hannah Sung is now at TVO in a new position overseeing digital video and podcasts. 

Interviews conducted by Stephanie Philp.


The nominees for 2018 will be announced on Thursday, April 26, 2018 at 10 AM EST. Follow us on Twitter @DPAwards for the most up-to-date news.

The Digital Publishing Awards soirée will celebrate the winners on Tuesday, May 29, 2018 in Toronto.

Interview Series: Fatima Syed and Carine Abouseif

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Carine Abouseif and Fatima Syed accepting their award at the 2017 DPA Soirée. Photo: Steven Goetz Storytelling.

In this instalment of our interview series, we catch up with Fatima Syed and Carine Abouseif, the co-creators of “Why Diversity,” a 2017 DPA-winning project. Throughout the creation of this project, Fatima and Carine talked with editors, reporters, and magazine leaders across the country who are examining, and attempting to remedy, the issue of diversity in Canadian journalism.

The result is an immersive, interactive feature that opens a space for conversation (you can join the conversation via Twitter, using #whydiversity) and calls for change in the newsroom.

The Ryerson Review of Journalism’s online special, “Why Diversity,” won Best Digital Initiative at the 2017 Digital Publishing Awards—congratulations! Pulling together this project was certainly a team effort, with two creators, an editor, a digital developer, designers, and 11 contributors credited for the win. Fatima and Carine, can you talk a bit about the collaboration process?

Fatima: We created this at the absolute peak of magazine production, so it’s a miracle that we published the project without any mistakes! While I worked on content creation, Carine oversaw the entire build, keeping tabs on everything. Together, we watched multimedia editors, Eternity Martis and Allison Baker, create visuals and video for us late at night; our fact-checkers, Erin Sylvester and Sydney Hamilton insisted that everything was verified and found an hour in everyone’s day to get it done; Lindsay Smith, our digital developer, exchanged emails with us at all times of the day; Jonah Brunet, our headline wizard, saved Carine and my brains from figuring out what to call every section; and Lauren McKeon stepped in on the last day to copy-edit one last time. Three days before publication, we had all these things happening at once. Good things are rarely created without some great teams, and we had the absolute best, who pulled this together in just over two weeks.

Carine: It was difficult because everyone on the team was also involved in other projects, writing their own stories and so on. So I think it’s very important to say that every single person on the team worked incredibly hard to balance all those responsibilities. I don’t want to speak for everyone, but I got a sense that a lot of people were invested in the conversations that we were having. One of the most memorable moments for me was seeing Fatima and Eternity discussing the introductory piece in the corner of the office, and workshopping it in writing on our big white board. I remember joining them, and that turning into a really passionate discussion about the issues we saw and found ourselves facing in the industry—conversations like that felt like a driving force for the project. diversity1

There are so many elements within this digital project: the interactive map alongside statements from various Canadian editors and editors-in-chief; a Youtube video on words that journalists get wrong; a list of links with the best journalism on diversity in the newsroom; voice clips from Ashante Infantry; and more. How did you decide on the placement of these elements within the project, and what was your process of organization like?

Carine: We started out wanting to build a completely interactive feature, so actually the idea to add bigger text pieces came later in the process. The format felt like the best way to get in as many voices and ideas as possible without the constraints of a traditional longform piece. The letters from the editors felt like a good secondary piece because it was a quick survey of how the decision makers in the industry were thinking about this topic, but then as you scroll down things get more intense like with the Paper Trolls piece, and then later you get to end with profiles of the people working hard to make change.

Fatima: We wanted it to be an immersive experience; a one-stop shop to get everyone’s brains thinking about the core of the problem. If readers recall, we added each element day by the day to literally “build” the conversation. Day 1 was the introduction by me and the snippets of conversations with Canadian editors (the full conversations are still in our google drive, and some were very long!)–a way to get all eyes and ears interested. Then we added new information everyday–the style guide, our podcast on Indigenous reporting, our list of Best Journalism on all diverse topics (which can seriously be updated with a whole ton of content now), and so on. I loved how Lindsay helped us design the page, because everyday, people would have to start at the beginning and go through all the old content to get to the new — an echo of what the conversation on diversity is like in some way.

In the above mentioned YouTube video, it’s noted that the “Ethnic Media and Diversity Style Guide” would be published in March. The text that prefaces the video—Fatima’s article “Out of Style”—mentions that “[t]he new diversity style guide’s effectiveness will depend on if and how it is used by newsrooms.” Since the guide’s publication, what changes (if any) have you noticed in Canadian reporting? Have journalists started to get more words right?

Carine: I think where I’ve seen the most change is in the effort. There seems to be more of an effort to try and get things right, an effort to listen to those who can offer a different perspective. That certainly doesn’t mean we’re getting everything right all the time, but it does feel like people are saying things like “I don’t know” or “maybe I’m not the right person to cover this” or “maybe we spend more time on this” a bit more these days.

Fatima: I think journalists have definitely become more cautious as the conversation on this has progressed and taken note. But, as noted in the piece on this, the conversation on diversity is ever-evolving and ever-changing, and we still need to carefully pay attention to it and double check everything, because mistakes do happen.

Fatima, your article “Paper Trolls” notes the transition from hate mail to online hate, which is “an unwritten tradition in journalism.” I’m wondering what the reaction to “Why Diversity” has been like? What types of conversations took place around the hashtag, #whydiversity?

Fatima: There were a lot of “me toos,” as expected, but, more surprisingly, there was some shock. The hate mail we featured was only the smallest insight into what people get, but it was so shocking. I remember the first time I shared it with everyone in our office; we put it all across our white board and stood there looking at it, completely horrified by the comments. And I got a bunch of messages expressing the same sentiment. “We didn’t know,” popped up a bunch too. And, unfortunately, since I’ve joined the industry myself, I now have my own collection to share, perhaps years from now.

The good thing is that people now talk about it, perhaps thanks to the advent of social media. At the same time, the frequency and nature of hate mail has also increased. I like to think #whydiversity helped spur more awareness of it.

diversity4How will the Ryerson Review of Journalism continue to talk about diversity in 2018? Does the publication have any upcoming digital projects in the works?

Fatima and Carine: Because it’s a student publication, the RRJ masthead changes annually. We hoped our legacy would help inspire the next round of journalists to think about digital as innovatively as possible, given the resources available to them. If there’s one thing we learned, its that people will listen if you have engaging, provocative, and honest conversations with them.

Lastly, what did winning a Digital Publishing Award mean to your digital team?

Carine: It felt incredibly rewarding. Like we said, everyone worked so, so hard on this, both in terms of execution, and in terms of the deep thought that went into approaching this subject and each element of the piece in a sensitive way. It felt great to know that the result of all those conversations was being heard and acknowledged.

Fatima: We had already won, even before the Digital Publishing Award. For over a month, the 20 of us on the masthead were having some of the most heated, most engaging, and most contentious discussions about diversity we’ll ever have in our life. We wanted to create an immersive project, and ended up immersing ourselves more than we ever expected. The award was a wonderful recognition of the issue and a recognition of the strong, careful way we had approached every facet of that issue we could of. It’s still a shock to recall some of the cheers and applause we received that day from some of the industry’s best people.

And to think, it all started with some hate tweets directed at me!


Fatima Syed is currently a reporter on the breaking news desk at the Toronto Star, focusing on diversity, social justice, and international issues. 

Carine Abouseif  is currently an editor at The Globe and Mail

Interview conducted by Leah Edwards. 

We are still accepting nominations for the Digital Publishing Leadership Award and Emerging Excellence Award until March 1, 2018. The nominees will be announced in April, and winners will be announced at the DPA Soirée on May 29.