Interview Series: Fatima Syed and Carine Abouseif

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.


A Round-Up of Digital Journalism Programs in Canada

We know that school has just started, but declaring your major and grad school application deadlines will be just around the corner. So, if you’re a Canadian post-secondary student interested in telling stories through podcasts or social media, keep reading.

The Digital publishing Awards have rounded up Canadian journalism programs focused on digital and new media. Program courses range from SFU’s “Social Media for Freelance Writers” to Concordia’s “Mediating Diversity through Audio Story-Telling.” Programs themselves range from a quick, eight-month certificate to an intense, two-year master’s. 

Read through the info below to find the program that’s right for you, and if there’s a program we’ve missed, let us know.

Simon Fraser University (Burnaby, BC)
Certificate in New Media Journalism

Program Description: Journalism has changed. We want to know what’s happening around us and why it matters – but instead of opening the paper or watching the news, we turn to YouTube, Twitter, Instagram or the latest blog. New technology has made journalists of everyone. Some coverage is worth our time, and some isn’t. Good new media reporting is compelling, current and cross-platform.  In SFU’s part-time New Media Journalism Certificate, you’ll learn to use old media skills in the new industry, master new media tools, and polish your writing and reporting skills.

More info:

University of Windsor (Windsor, ON)
Combined Honours Degree in Digital Journalism

Program Description: The University of Windsor offers a combined honours journalism degree unique in Canada. Students learn the theoretical perspectives and technical skills journalists need to compete in the rapidly changing digital marketplace combined with an academic discipline in a four-year honours degree. Our objective is to graduate journalists who can find work in mainstream, alternative and citizen media. All media are moving to digital platforms, which opens up an array of multi-skilled jobs ranging from the traditional storytelling in newspapers and magazines to the very contemporary roles of videographer to web producer.

More info:

Wilfrid Laurier University (Waterloo, ON)
Bachelor of Arts in Digital Media and Journalism

Program Description: Our Digital Media and Journalism program develops your researching, writing, reporting, digital storytelling and technical media production skills. It teaches you how to leverage the power of digital and social media platforms to tell compelling transmedia stories and deliver pointed communications. It also helps you make sense of the political, economic and cultural world in which media professionals work. By the time you graduate, you’ll be able to create compelling content for digital and social media platforms, tell intelligent text-based and transmedia stories, as well as understand and analyze the wider social, political and economic forces shaping today’s media environments.

More info:

University of Toronto, School of Continuing Studies (Toronto, ON)
Certificate in Multimedia Journalism

Program Description: How can journalists and freelance writers adapt to today’s digital world? How do you tell a coherent and compelling story on a website or social media? This new certificate is geared to journalists and freelance writers, communications professionals and writers in the private, public and not-for-profit sectors. You’ll learn how to write for the web and use social media to tell a story or promote one online. You’ll learn from industry leaders in journalism, freelance writing and online communications. They’ll share their insights on the old-school skills involved in writing a news story and how to adapt these tools to the digital world. Examine the ethical questions raised by brand journalism and other adaptations of traditional journalism skills. You’ll get valued feedback on your work and emerge with a portfolio that shows your skills in and understanding of digital journalism.

More info:

Seneca College and York University (Joint Program) (Toronto, ON)
Ontario College Diploma for Journalism

Program Description: The Journalism program will provide you with training in television, radio, digital journalism and documentary skills. You’ll gain a higher degree of competency and knowledge and be prepared to obtain entry level positions in television, radio, digital journalism and information programming.

More info:

Sheridan College (Mississauga, ON)
Program: Graduate Certificate in  Journalism – New Media

Program Description: Since its introduction in 2000, Sheridan’s Journalism – New Media program revolutionized journalism curriculum with the creation of innovative courses that ranged from multimedia reporting to interactive documentary production.  Students work directly with professors through project-based learning. JNM’s integrated approach to learning combines practical and technical training – fusing traditional journalism education with trailblazing technology courses you won’t find at other schools. This 8-month long intensive program is perfectly suited for university and college graduates of all disciplines, as well as mid-career professionals seeking to upgrade their skills and digital and entrepreneurial acumen.

More info:

University of Ottawa (Ottawa, ON)
Honours Bachelor Degree in Digital Journalism

Program Description: The Department of Communication offers an Honours Bachelor in Digital Journalism jointly with Algonquin College (in English) and with La Cité (in French). The Department of Communication will provide theoretical, analytical and critical foundations, while courses at the college will focus on practical training. The program is ideal if you are looking for the perfect balance between journalism theory and practice.

More info:

Concordia University (Montreal, QC)
Master’s in Digital Innovation in Journalism Studies

Program Description: Invigorate your passion for journalism by exploring the digital ramifications of a rapidly evolving segment of the media landscape. Our one-of-a kind Master’s program pushes the boundaries of research into the future of journalism with a unique focus on digital innovation, or new approaches to journalism practice. Through seminars and lab sessions, you’ll develop critical thinking skills to enhance your understanding of how digital storytelling intersects with, and redefines traditional mediums such as print, television and radio. Over a period of two-years, you’ll gain training in digital journalism skills combined with a strong research foundation in how to study and experiment with factual storytelling and projected journalism futures.

More info:

Dalhousie University and University of King’s College (Joint Program) (Halifax, NS)
Master of Journalism

Program Description: The professional degree focuses on new methods of journalism research, new multimedia and multiplatform story forms and emerging business models. The Master of Journalism  degree has two streams: Investigative reporting and New Ventures in Journalism. Both the Investigative and New Ventures streams conclude with a professional project and both are built around a core of classes in the craft and economics of digital journalism.

More info:


The Digital Publishing Awards

Twitter: @DPAwards
Facebook: /DPAwards