A Generation of ‘Internet-Interactors’ or Back to Our Roots?

I have always considered myself to be a social person – I think. Okay, perhaps social media, texting, and cell phone obsession have consumed my generation, but that only really took off in my early teens, so I clearly learned social skills prior to this evolution. Right?

socialmedia_blogpostThe debate of social interaction and the upcoming generation’s ability to be active and comfortable to person-to-person interaction has been prominent in academia, to the point that personally I’ve never found it particularly fascinating. The other day, however, I had a business networking meeting. As per usual protocol, I immediately stood up and shook their hand. After being led into an office and casually discussing career goals and the typical sum of a professional background, the person commented that I presented well. I was obviously glad to have a complement, and they followed by pointing out they could immediately tell I had strong interpersonal skills by my handshake. Sorry? I had no idea that my fate of a good impression had already been sealed in the first thirty seconds. They proceeded to show me what they often received – a flimsy, limp noodle handshake that inconspicuously read ‘I couldn’t care less’. It led me to wonder if this really was the truth of my generation. Are we so consumed by our digital lives that we’ve lost the instinct and knowledge of body language?

In the Handbook of New Media: Social Shaping and Consequences of ICTs, Curry (2002) suggests that the key to understanding shifts in social interaction is to consider the interconnection between technologies available for communication and representation and the method by which people conceptualize space and place (p.503). Slater (2002) furthers this notion by describing the advancements of new media from older forms of digital interaction. He states:

“…the focus moved from the virtual as simulation to the virtual of coherent social space, and one in which new rules and ways of being and relating could emerge precisely because of the separation from the constraints of the ‘really real’. We can flesh this out through the remaining three terms: spatiality, disembedding and disembodiment.”(p.534)

When we take into consideration our interpretation of space and place, how do we then define our virtual selves? Do we feel a sense of place and space through our Facebook page? Is Facebook Messenger a so-called ‘place’ and ‘space’ of interaction in the same sense a coffee shop or that office I was in might be? In a sense, we could push this statement to say that our computers or more specifically the Internet holds a plethora of spaces and places. These ‘realities’ however are constructed through a series of programming mechanisms. In a simple scenario, consider what happens when you restore your backed up hard drive onto your computer; everything is restored to how it was one month ago, for example. Now, obviously this functions differently on the uber-intelligent Internet, but imagine this also applied to all of your social media accounts. How does this coordinate with your actual reality? Does it create a type of friction or conflict? In essence, it creates two separate realities of space and place. The difference though is in that the Internet and new media does not function in the linear manner through which real life unfolds.

This line of thought is just a minute part in the ambiguous debate of the effects of new media. Questions of identity, policy, freedoms of expression, etc. are all factors in the forming of digital social interaction. In many ways, pockets of society are reverting back to classic and humanized forms of interaction. The movement towards the tangible object for example, has reinvigorated the value of the object versus the digital copy. I would argue this phenomenon gives hope to the classic industries of publishing, music, and art. There is however an undeniable shift away from this and a growing obsession of the virtual.

Going back to the example of my business meeting, it became clear that the ability to socially interact face-to-face has now become a valuable asset. Whether this quality will diminish and eventually become extinct with new generations remains to be seen.

Lievrouw, L. and Livingstone, S. (Eds.)(2002). The Handbook of New Media: Social Shaping and the Consequences of ICTs. London: Sage Publications.



Is India’s Daughter Just Too Taboo or Exactly What the Doctor Ordered?


Taken from India’s Daughter, this film still shows accused rapist Mukesh Singh expressing his views on rape and his crime.

Not only was this past weekend marked by International Women’s Day, but with it came the release of an empowering yet highly disturbing documentary: India’s Daughter.

Banned in India, international broadcasters chose to bypass the Indian government’s wishes and air the controversial film that tells the story of Jyoti Singh, a 23-year-old medical student who was gang raped on a bus by a group of six men. Brutally beaten and physically disfigured by the act, Singh was discarded on the side of the road, but managed to survive long enough to pass with her family in hospital. The controversy circles around the angle taken by filmmaker Leslee Udwin. Not only does she interview Jyoti’s family and friend, but questions the defense lawyers, and even one of the murderers themselves – most of whom are currently on death row (one perpetrator was tried as a juvenile and was only given a three year sentence). According to the film, the Supreme Court is currently reviewing the case before sentencing is final.

Before the film’s release, it was already wrapped in a whirlwind of media attention. The ban revolved around the statements made by Mukesh Singh – one of the accused rapists – and his views on his crime. Despite his sentencing, he still refused to own responsibility of the crime and still maintained strong opinions on the mistakes of Jyoti, such as being out too late at night and fighting back against the rape. After tumultuous protests across the country after the initial crime, it appears the Indian government was determined to avoid the added flame to the women’s rights fire. But does this justify a ban on a film that simply aims to reveal details and the back-story of a hate crime?

What became extremely apparent as the film progressed is that the fight for women’s rights in a patriarchic society is actually a much more complex issue than the law or what occurs inside the courtroom. By visiting the families of the accused, it becomes clear that a lack of education and development are just as much of a hurdle as the inefficiency of the Indian judicial system. I believe this is the true larger picture that feeds into women’s equality issues around the globe. Without infrastructural development, there will be a lack of education, and with a lack of education comes a lack of change and growth in thought and cultural outlook. When one considers that India is a quickly developing country with monumental growth, it’s hard not to factor in the situation of less developed countries where issues of gender inequality have still not been put in the hot seat. India holds the potential to be a shining example to developing nations. The message is becoming loud and clear: Indian women are no longer willing to be silent about their strife. Of course there is nothing perfect about how the transition of the law is occurring, but this process is likely to be lengthy and a case of trial and error.

Before the film’s release, I listened to the BBC World Service radio’s show World Have Your Say, where they engaged in debate of the ban on the film. About half way through the panel discussion, Leslee Udwin expressed deep frustration with the fact that none of the other interviewees had actually seen the film, despite their strong opinions. The overarching message? If Indians are to hold an educated opinion on gender equality and the acceptance or rejection of rape within their culture, the freedoms to not only express their opinion but also to educate themselves are undoubtedly essential.



Oh, ISIS, Where Art Thou?

In July, a father and son trip to the mountains turned into a mother’s unimaginable nightmare. Her son’s father calls to inform her the two have entered Syria with the intent of following ISIS. The 8-year-old boy, now returned to his mother, is one of several children to be taken by their parents to ISIS-occupied regions. Cases have appeared in France, Morocco, and Germany, among others. ISIS’ persuasive recruitment tactics not only condone adult professionals to join them in their mission against Western values, but to bring children and build a future generation of followers. As the organization continues to operate in Syria and Iraq, the reach of its media undeniably spreads far beyond those borders. How is it though that this guerilla group has successfully utilized media more so than ever seen in these types of organizations? And why, after months of shocking media releases, has it slowed down?

Still from English-subtitled ISIS media campaign

Still from English-subtitled ISIS media campaign

While mainstream media notably covers graphic videos of beheadings that threaten Western hostages, there has been an array of videos advocating their cause. One recently ordered for followers to kill disbelievers, civilian or soldier, in countries that have allied to defeat the terrorist organization. But is there a brilliant mastermind behind these videos, formatting and strategically using social media to promote the organization? Or is it simply crazed amateurs that sporadically create and distribute media without an end goal?

According to Channel 4 News’ Kamal Kaddourah, ISIS is highly dependant on the moderation of media both coming out of ISIS and coming in to ISIS-occupied regions. Aligned with typical authoritarian regime behaviour, the organization aimed to control all pictures and film, and forbade filming in all of their controlled areas. Despite tight restrictions, ISIS has also been quick to respond to Western speculation of their censored media – when Western authorities questioned the authenticity of the beheading videos, Kaddourah points out that ISIS released slow motion footage of the videos proving their actions.

In some respect, ISIS’ media domination in the realm of guerilla groups was a matter of timing. By flourishing in the broken state of Syria, the group connected with alienated and marginalized Muslims disconnected with Western norms and supremacy. As Kaddourah highlights, the propagandist features of ISIS media work to reign in on certain sectors of the Muslim community. They dedicate their videos to the empowerment of religion; yet still evoke the qualities of their organization by presenting themselves as organized and methodical.

Channel 4 News’ Jonathan Miller sheds light on another aspect of ISIS media: the quality of their productions supersedes the expectations of the average group, such as Al Qaeda. They have certainly mastered the art of editing, even recruiting professional journalists and editors. From their choreography to their distribution, they have calculated their media production to a tee. In his personal interpretation of their videos, Miller describes the propagandist nature of their footage:

“These are jihadis fuelled by their vision of self-fulfilling end of days             prophecy from the Hadiths – about the black flag commandos coming from the east and ultimately re-conquering Jerusalem. Everything about their output has an apocalyptic feel, reinforcing the imagery they seek to propagate. They slo-mo and use graphic effects. They seek to instill fear and create a sense of their own omnipotence far in excess of the actual threat they pose.”

With a plethora of media headlines on ISIS throughout the summer and into the fall, there now seems to be a gap in newsworthy ISIS attention. Specifically on the Canadian front, news organizations have primarily highlighted Canadian military action in the area, reporting targeted actions following the Parliamentary vote. Is ISIS’ media taking a lull? An article in the Daily Mail notes ISIS’ media obsession may have slightly backfired: the group is now instructing its members to remove metadata from tweets, as this may compromise their locations. Perhaps what has become evident is that while ISIS holds no shortage of shock value its in media, Western powers arguably have a bigger grasp on analyzing media, and this may be ISIS’ Achilles heel.

From the power of propaganda, to high-quality output and calculated circulation, ISIS defines the new face of guerilla group media. Though there are apparent gaps in their strategy, their power and demonstration of media outreach for a cause of this nature is unmatched. If ISIS is to fall, I have no doubt we are seeing the new face if guerilla media.

Daily Mail article:


A news report on ISIS recruiting through online media by Jonathan Miller:





The Deep Dark Hole of Job Hunting

media_lit_stock-1_cropAs a young, passionate graduate with a Masters from a recognized university, call me naïve to think job hunting wouldn’t be next to impossible. The comms industry is big and vast with thousands of jobs around the world being dangled in front of your face like a carrot. In my dreams I was skipping along shoving jobs I simply didn’t want out of my face and gracefully grasping a few that seemed enticing. Well, reality stinks. Job-hunting is probably one of the most frustrating and defeating tasks I think today’s upcoming young professionals are facing. If you’re not a doctor of some sort or seeking a career as a computer engineer, it just isn’t that easy. There are a few key things I’ve learned along the way (partly through my own mistakes), but in the meantime, I’m still on the hunt:

  1. Don’t under- or over-estimate the questionable internship.

Internships are great. They get you experience and often result in networking opportunities that could hand you your first job. The problem that youth face is the unpaid internship. Although companies are starting to brush up and realize that free labour is unjust, there are still plenty of unpaid internships out there, commonly among non-profits (seems obvious), international relations like the UN, or smaller businesses. In the UK, there is now the loophole of ‘work experience’, but work experience should be valued at what it is: an opportunity to get a taste of certain positions. I think it would be wrong to go into work experience thinking it will result in a job offer or a plethora of new network connections. It is a few weeks of being a slave. On the plus side, it’s great to get a feel for an industry or company and definitely a great use of time during university holidays. Unpaid internships are tricky: on the one hand, you could build a great network and perhaps get a lead into a future job. On the flipside, you may end up simply being used as free labour and working for a company that really has no interest or ability to hire interns simply out of a lack of job opportunities (as I’ve been told is common in the Vancouver publishing industry). My advice? Know your value. There is a certain point where you have to evaluate your self worth and realize that your work is not free. Do a few internships at the beginning (preferably for companies you’re actually interested in working for), build your network and skills, but know when enough is enough. Eventually, all you’ll be doing is supporting companies that take advantage of young unemployed professionals. If you do take on the unpaid ones, make a financial plan well in advance and weigh it out with the cost of education. From personal experience, I’m now kicking myself for throwing all my financial eggs in the education basket and not giving myself a safety net for gaining some practical skills.

  1. Those few years of education are for a hell of a lot more than learning.

The one and only reason I wish I could do my Masters all over again is to continue the networking I began. While professors may sometimes seem dull standing at the front of a lecture hall, they typically know people outside of academia – sometimes through their own research or their previous careers – and they actually WANT to help you (most of the time). Schools get better ratings when their alumni are employed and better ratings can lead to better funding. If you’re looking for internships while you’re in school, ask your professors who teach in that area. Find out what events or lectures the school puts on in that field. Use the careers centre (I wish I’d done this more!). I sometimes even met with my professors to get their opinion on a company I was interested in or advice on applications. If nothing else, this puts across your passion and drive, which may pay off both professionally and academically. While all of this info may seem obvious, the reality is – or at least what I found – most students don’t start this early enough. The sooner you begin networking and getting to know your professors personally, the more they’ll feel inclined to help you and remember your face when opportunities pop up. It sounds shallow, but in my experience, it’s very true.

  1. The Triple C: Customized Cover Letters and CVs

I’ve been staring at my CV for weeks now, and I feel I’m beginning to resent it. I feel like this silly piece of paper holds my future and the more I scrutinize its formatting and its content, the more I want to tear it into tiny pieces that I can burn one by one. I have a slightly unconventional format for a CV and after tons of feedback, I’ve decided it’s acceptable for my career track. But that doesn’t mean I’m attached to it. My roommate in London always told me job hunting is a numbers game. Employers are getting hundreds of CVs and yours isn’t always going to get pulled out of the mix. There will always be someone out there more qualified than you, so sometimes it’s the luck of the draw. With this in mind, it’s important to mass-send applications, right? Kind of. Yes, I think it’s important to get a lot of applications out there, but quality cannot be a compromise. My suggestion? Pick a few companies that you’re really interested in and desperately want to work for. Do in-depth research about those companies. Follow them on social media. Look up their employees on LinkedIn. Make a CV and cover letter that fit their brand. Yes, it’s okay to have templates of CVs and cover letters, but don’t undervalue the importance of personalized and customized applications. Another key thing I’m still learning is about communication methods: from my experience, email is not a personal method of contact. Try contacting the company’s HR or find out if you can deliver your CV in person and maybe even set up an informational interview. Emails are easily dismissible, especially in busy and fast-paced companies. And be patient, yet persistent. That may seem like a contradiction in words, but it’s a fine art. If you show continued interest and push to get your foot in the door, an employer can appreciate that, but respect the fact that these are busy people and the last thing you want to do is piss them off.

  1. Be a realistic dreamer.

When you’re hunting for your dream career, it’s always difficult to hear that it’s unrealistic and it won’t happen. I feel like I’ve been hearing this since before I even started hunting. Scratch that, I’ve been hearing this my whole life! I think the smarter way to approach your dream career is tactfully. Look on LinkedIn at professionals who already have your dream job and see where they started off. While there’s a million ways to get to the top and part of that journey is also luck and connections, it can give you a great idea of what sort of job titles you should be looking at when you’re starting off. Another difficult lesson I’ve had to learn is that some experience is better than none. Sometimes it’s less about the title and more about the skills you’ll acquire. For example, you may not be dreaming of a career as a PR maven, but PR offers a lot of skills that apply to other areas of communications. It’s definitely worth broadening your scope of industries and job titles, especially in your first full-time role. With that said, don’t let go of the dreamer in you. This is something I’m definitely still struggling through, but I think the key is taking the bigger dream and breaking it down into baby steps.

  1. Remember that this whole thing takes a while.

I feel like I’m constantly hearing about friends who just fall into jobs right after graduation, and it makes me wonder if I missed something along the way. While it’s a difficult answer to accept, the reality is those people are usually extremely lucky. Job-hunting can be a long process. The other day I spoke with a friend who’s an illustrator and job searched for nine months. That’s almost a year of job-hunting stress! What’s important is to prepare for the worst and hope for the best. Yes, it would be great to land a job a few weeks after graduation, but chances are it will take several months and it’s important to have some plan to tide you over until then (financially and schedule wise – if I didn’t have activities to distract me, I think I’d be a ball of depression and hopelessness by now). Developing a strategy, creating a goal, and keeping optimistic are all important things to balance in this process.

Okay, so maybe these things seem like no-brainers, but I think they’re all essential elements to keep in mind in those last years of school and in the first few months afterwards. Have I mastered them? Not by any means, but then again, most of these considerations can always be improved upon throughout your career. I’ve been told this all gets easier after landing your first job, and the career will start to flow. As a hopeful person, I’m banking on that advice.

Oh, Canada: Ethical Frameworks in Journalism and the Rob Ford Scandal

              dailyshowimageIn February 2014, Robyn Doolittle – a City Hall reporter for the Toronto Star – was interviewed in the US by Jon Stewart on the Daily Show[1]. While her main purpose was promoting her book on the crack-smoking Toronto Mayor Rob Ford, there was inevitable mockery of how this shenanigan could have happened in such a large city for so long, along with the typical American/Canadian banter. Despite the humour, Doolittle somewhat defended public voters by emphasizing the differences in journalism between the two nations. When questioned on how Ford has managed to get away with his behaviour for such an extended period of time (since he became a Councillor in City Hall in 2000), Doolittle highlighted that access to information laws in the US are perhaps taken for granted; in Canadian law, it is a much more lengthy process to get the information you need to report a fact-checked story. She also noted that Canadian journalism is considerably less concerned with the private lives of political figures, and Rob Ford is presenting a change in this dynamic. When Stewart asked if Canadian news media is conflict-based or if it exercises restraint, Doolittle points out that Canada’s news media has recently begun to shift to an American style, where things that are said in a more commentary setting, such a talk radio, are perceived as factual, and errors start to become truths. These are just some of the points brought to light by the Rob Ford scandal, and how it has exemplified some of the ethical issues in journalism. Although the Ford story began as a cutting edge news story that challenged journalism ethics, it was quickly framed by the tabloids as a celebrity meltdown. The dilemma of the Daily Show interview was not one of US/Canada relations, however, yet a friction between a reputable, well-established Canadian newspaper, and a comedic, opinion-based television program, which could explain the missing link in understanding the ethical difficulties of investigating and reporting on Rob Ford.

In the debate of journalism ethics, there is a question of if there’s a universal ethical framework or various national ethical frameworks. I argue that there is neither a universal nor a national ethical framework. Instead, there exists what I will define as transnational ethical frameworks that are divided by cultural differences, such as corporate structures/business models, political principles, and foundational ethics within individual news agencies. To exemplify these characteristics, this essay presents theoretical arguments of ethical issues of reporting on Rob Ford that translate across nations but not necessarily across all news agencies; and then looks at the practical segregations in news media agencies that are comparable in the US, the UK, and Canada, while considering the aspect of libel law in each state.

For a reputable, factual newspaper like the Toronto Star, the ethical issues of publishing this type of story strongly oppose those faced by the satirical blogging site Gawker[2]. The initial decision to publish faced the question of how much fact-checking was necessary, the confidentiality of their source, and the dilemma of paying for information. As the story became more heated, ethical boundaries Ford’s privacy and the privacy of those related to him were called into question (and does it qualify as stalking), and how news agencies should treat reporting done by other news agencies (that is, do you acknowledge that it is factual without having access to their sources).[3] While journalism sources such as Gawker may deal with these issues differently, it is arguable that these ethical debates would have happened and been dealt with in the same manner in newsrooms in other national contexts, and drawn the same conclusion. One can therefore draw parallels of ethical frameworks not by nations, but by transnational factors that influence a news agency’s ethics of reporting and publishing.

Ethical Journalism: Where the Ethical Boundaries Lie

In the timeline of events both before and after the publication of the Toronto Star’s headline on the alleged video, the debate on ethical journalism most likely would have occurred in April, as Doolittle and fellow reporter Kevin Donovan deliberated how to deal with the information they’d been given. As Doolittle and others have suggested[4], the Rob Ford story signified a shift in the landscape of journalism in Canada. Shapiro (2014) would suggest, however, that the Ford story did not signify a shift in Canadian journalism, per say, but instead exemplified the controversies in ethical boundaries for a certain type of news agency, one that’s values are paralleled in other nations, thus the argument for transnational ethical frameworks. The debate therefore lies in how we define responsible journalism, what qualifies as media ethics, and who is held to this standard. Ethics on a global/universal scale do not exist (Couldry, 2013, p.26), making a discussion of meta-ethics (operating in a normative framework) a difficult conversation with multiple contestations (Couldry, Madianou, & Pinchevski, 2013, p.8). We can, however, think of ethical frameworks in a categorical sense, by considering practical measures, such as corporate structures, political positions, etc. This transnational ethical framework assists in describing the behaviour of journalists within news agencies around the world that have a common understanding of their purpose. The opinion that responsible journalism follows the philosophy of participating for the betterment of the public good (Merritt, 1998,p.96;Couldry, 2013,p.15) is limiting, in that the perception of the ‘public good’ is highly contestable, and as Couldry (2013) notes, “the practical conditions of working journalists are inimical to ethical practice” (p.14). In addition, the journalistic practice defies the establishment of ethical standards (Zelizer, 2013, p.271) by pushing boundaries preconceived notions of journalism ethics, as the world has seen recently through scandals such as the News of the World, Edward Snowden and Wikileaks, and, as I will argue in Canada, the Rob Ford crack video.

As previously mentioned, one of the primary concerns of the Toronto Star was the degree of fact-checking and anonymity; at what point can a ‘responsible’ journalist publish something as ‘truth’ that they themselves have only been exposed to in a limited context? Dayan (2013) explains that the danger of decontextualizing a statement or source is that once it is validated by the media, it tends to be accepted by all parties (p.163). On this thought, he refers to Lyotard (1988), who states “reality is a status of referent that results from the effectuation procedures of fact-establishment” (p.32). In actuality, once the Star published the story and made the claim, despite Ford’s continual denial, there was little doubt that the video existed, and more so a collective effort by the media and the public to obtain the video from the source. Instead of speculation for the truth, it became a waiting game for the next big move by either the media or the Mayor. As Thompson (2007) points out, the increase in the prevalence of political scandal is not the result of the lowering moral standards of politicians, but a change in the moral conventions used to assess the behaviour of politicians (p.262). Once Gawker published the headline that the video was for sale, I would argue the Toronto Star had little choice but to publish the story due to extenuating factors such as competition. Had Gawker not been a factor, the Toronto Star may have been more hesitant, and taken more time to back rumour with fact, and ensure they were not breaching Ford’s right to reputation[5].

In conjunction to the practice of fact-checking, academics in the field of ethics often highlight the importance of truth-seeking as an ethical standard in journalism. Couldry (2013) suggests that truth-seeking is not only vital to journalism, but is a “value for all effective forms of human organization” (p.16). Thurth-seeking fits into Couldry’s (2013) broader ethical framework that he composes of three elements: accuracy, the aim to truth; sincerity, the act of only making statements that align with what you believe; and care, the disposition to show care for the common characteristics of interaction that the media make possible (p.25). While perhaps these characteristics must be revisited and considered in the actions of journalists, Couldry’s virtues are idealistic, and do not define the standards by which even responsible journalists work. As O’Neill (2013) notes, “since the disciplines of truth-seeking are constraining, appeals to truth-seeking can at most support conceptions of media freedom that incorporate the relevant constraints” (p.25). Although responsible journalism ideally aims to seek the truth, circumstances exist that surpass the importance of this virtue, as was the case in the publication of the alleged Rob Ford video. It was put into practice that although the utopian virtues of ethics exist in the newsroom, they are separated from the behaviour of journalists by other extenuating factors that influence actions.

Revisiting Couldry’s (2013) ethics element of ‘care’, the Rob Ford scandal acts as a prime example of how respect for the interactions that the media make possible – a component of journalism ethics – can become side-lined by other weighted priorities in the behaviour of journalists. While the Toronto Star is a well-respected liberal news agency ( though Shapiro (2014) views this to be irrelevant, as it is a differing paradigm from that of ethics), the decision to contribute to the betterment of public life outweighed the importance of ‘care’, consequentially creating tensions in the interactions of the media with politicians in Toronto. When considering this situation, it is not only external factors such as competition that were integral to decision-making, but components of ethics that conflicted with one another.

An important consideration in the ethical dilemmas of the publishing of the Rob Ford scandal is power in the newsroom. An editorial piece – written as a follow-up to the publication by a writer at the Star – focuses on the role of the Star’s lawyer, who was closely involved in the decision of if publishing anonymous sources in this case was irresponsible journalism, and broke the Star’s policy on confidential sources (Gunn, 2013). In this sense, can the journalist be solely responsible for their ethical actions, or do other figures within the same newsroom hold more weighted power? Undoubtedly, certain powers pressure journalists, and manipulate journalist behaviour. As Silverstone ( 2007) argues, the current crisis in journalism ethics is due to the “capacity of the global media to fulfil their responsibilities to a world which at the same time, in its political and economic dynamics, continues to undermine that capacity” (p.163); for example, there are media outlets that “embody the more commercial pole with relatively little journalistic autonomy and where economic capital dominates over journalism’s cultural capital (Hanitzsch, 2011, p.479-480). If we think of editors, newsroom lawyers, and business directors, as collectively pushing for political and economic dynamics, there is a system that is consistently conflicting with the purpose and goals of the journalist. These dynamics act as the controlling forces of the ethical framework under which the journalist operates, and work in various ways across different countries, hence putting into practice transnational ethical frameworks.

Ethics in Practice: Transnational Ethical Frameworks and Libel Law

In the US, the story of Rob Ford has been little more than a farce – a series of YouTube videos, late-night comedy sketches, and blog posts asking “Is this guy actually a politician?” In the UK, the Rob Ford crack video story became the second most-read item on BBC’s global news website (Fernandes & Kline, 2014). At the Toronto Star, however, the Rob Ford story and the uncovering of the infamous crack video has been a dilemma of journalism ethics, and how far a reputable newspaper can push the envelope. While the stories are very different, one could compare the decision to publish to the struggle faced the New York Times and the Guardian on Edward Snowden, or the unethical behaviour or the phone-hacking scandals and the Leveson Inquiry; the comparison is in the decision to publish information obtained in an unethical, irresponsible manner[6]. I argue that in terms of ethical decision-making in the newsroom, equivalent ethical divisions and areas of contestation can be found across the UK, the US, and Canada; divisions in the news media are based on other factors than national ethical values, such as views on the role of the journalist. I will however make the case that the element of the ‘national’ is brought into the deliberation of ethical frameworks through the workings of defamation law, and the different law systems used by each country.

Divisions in ethical frameworks implemented by journalists can in part be explained through perceptions of journalists’ role. These perceptions are not only defined by the journalist themselves, but are embedded in the structure and purpose of the news agency they represent. According to Hanitzsch (2011), there are three key areas of contestation in journalists’ role perceptions: interventionism, power distance, and market orientation (p.481). Interventionism describes journalists who pursue specific missions or promote certain values. In this case, journalists can either be involved – whereby they are socially committed and assertive in their reporting – or uninvolved – where they maintain objectivity, neutrality, and impartiality. Power distance is a journalist’s position towards the allocation of power in society. Journalists either act as a ‘Fourth Estate’, or as a loyal opportunist who collaborates with ruling elites in political processes. Lastly, a contested area of role perception is market orientation, which dictates how a journalist perceives his or her audience; market orientation is higher in journalism cultures that “subordinate goals to the logic of the market”, and lower in cultures that prioritise public interest and use the dissemination of information as a tool to create an informed citizenry.[7]

In simpler terms, these three divisions can be viewed as the foundational values of specific news agencies (interventionism), political principles (power distance), and corporate structures (market orientation). In various combinations, these choices form an ethical framework individual to each news agency, but that categorizes it into a broader spectrum of journalism practice. While these divisions are not themselves ‘ethics’, they have a strong role in determining ethical behaviour. Applying these variables to the case of Rob Ford and the decision to publish, it becomes clear how other news agencies even in the same country, like the Sun News Network (which according to Shapiro (2014) is the Canadian equivalent of Fox News in the US) would consider extremely different factors than did the Toronto Star (which works more similarly to a newspaper like The Guardian in the UK).

Although it is a large topic that cannot be fully unpack in this essay, libel/defamation law and the law systems that constrain journalists in different countries is integral to the question of ethical frameworks and ethical behaviour. Despite my argument of transnational ethical frameworks, it is one factor that operates at the national level, and visibly influences ethics in the newsroom. The UK, the US, and Canada all operate under Common Law systems, yet libel law has transpired differently in each country. In Canadian courts, freedom of speech is more balanced with the right to reputation (Shapiro, 2014). The UK, however, reformed its defamation law in 2013, and it is now required that a defamatory claim must have caused or be likely to cause serious harm to the reputation of the claimant (The National Archives, 2013). This reform acted in response to the ‘chilling effect’ that libel law has had on the freedom of expression, and legal threats faced by journalists in the UK. It also acts against ‘libel tourism’, whereby foreigners would come to the UK to sue journalists, where their defamation charges were likely to be accepted (The Guardian, 2013). With the consideration of libel law alone, it is evident that the Rob Ford scandal probably would have disseminated under different circumstances, and the ethics of anonymous sourcing would have likely been more highly contemplated.

In the US, libel law was widely defined by the case of the New York Times vs. Sullivan in the Supreme Court[8]. Due to the result of this case, it is now implied that Congress will make no law that impedes the freedom of expression, which will always be prioritized in court. According to Shapiro (2014), American journalists would have nothing to lose on Rob Ford, and the story would have proliferated with considerable less consideration of ethics and responsible journalism.

In Canada, “truth or justification is a complete defence against libel in Canadian law” (Cohen and McLean, 2014); that is, if the fact is true, it has a full defence for libel. In the case of the Rob Ford video, as long as the reporters published their own experience of viewing the video, they were not making untrue claims that could have subjected them to a lawsuit. The differentiation of libel law in practice in each country is a major factor in the previously discussed ethics of truth-seeking and fact-checking, and supports the argument that ethical frameworks in different nations may be further paralleled or segregated by similar/differing law systems that dictate the degree to which ethical virtues affect journalist behaviour.


                  Despite the argument that Canadian journalism is tempered by the Canadian culture for greater respect for authority and the “reserved nature of Canadian social intercourse” (Desbarats, 1987, p.A7), there are several more factors in considering journalism ethics than the national reputation for politeness and manners. Factors beyond ethics have proven to prevail in journalist behaviour, and “the fight is on for ever-more lurid stories both online and off” (Phillips, 2013, p.261). Foucault ( 1994) writes that in order for a person to have ethical behaviour, the individual must be free to make moral judgements[9]. As this essay has argued however, journalists are not free to do so; they are constrained by external factors that define the limitations of the ethical frameworks in which they operate. Unfortunately for Rob Ford, both ethical virtues and factors such as corporate structures, political principles, and foundational aspects of news agencies are all forces collectively working to bring him down.

 Works Cited

Blatchford, C. (2013, November 8). Paid-for video new journalism low; Rob Ford: New footage of Toronto mayor in full rant bought by newspaper and posted online. Vancouver, BC, Canada: The Vancouver Sun.

Couldry, N. (2013). Why Media Ethics Still Matters. In S. J. Ward, Global Media Ethics: Problems and Perspectives (pp. 13-29). West Sussex, UK: Blackwell Publishing.

Couldry, N., Madianou, M., & Pinchevski, A. (2013). Ethics of Media: An Introduction. In N. Couldry, M. Madianou, & A. Pinchevski, Ethics of Media (pp. 1-18). Hampshire: Palgrave Macmillan.

Dayan, D. (2013). On Whose Terms Are You Shown?:(or, at least, following what principles?). In N. Couldry, M. Madianou, & A. Pinchevski, Ethics of Media (pp. 161-177). Hampshire: Palgrave Macmillan.

Desbarats, P. (1987, December 11). Canadian Journalism respects privacy staying out of the gutter. Toronto, ON, Canada: The Globe and Mail.

Doolittle, R. (2014, February 7). The Daily Show . (J. Stewart, Interviewer)

Fernandes, S., & Kline, A. (2014, January 28). Rob Ford Around the World: What International Coverage Spotlighted about Differences in Media Law. Retrieved April 17, 2014, from The Canadian Journalism Project: http://j-source.ca/article/mayor-and-media-how-toronto’s-news-gave-j-students-crash-course-media-law-and-journalism-eth##world

Foucault, M. (1994). In P. Rabinow, Ethics: The Essential Works of Michel Foucault. Harmondsworth: Penguin.

Gunn, F. (2013, April 6). Reporting on Rob Ford. Toronto, ON, Canada: The Toronto Star.

Hanitzsch, T. (2011). Populist disseminators, detached watchdogs, critical change agents, and opportunist facilitators:Professional milieus, the journalistic field, and autonomy in 18 countries. The International Communication Gazette, 477-494.

Lyotard, J.-F. (1988). Le Differend. Paris: Minuit.

Merritt, D. (1998). Public Journalism and Public Life. London: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Publishers.

O’Beirne, R., & Kolm, J. (2014, January 28). Time to Publish: How Gawker drove the story forward. Retrieved April 17, 2014, from The Canadian Journalism Project: http://j-source.ca/article/mayor-and-media-how-toronto’s-news-gave-j-students-crash-course-media-law-and-journalism-eth

O’Neill, O. (2013). Media Freedoms and Media Standards. In N. Couldry, M. Madianou, & A. Pinchevski, Ethics of Media (pp. 21-38). Hampshire: Palgrave Macmillan.

Phillips, A. (2013). Journalism, Ethics and the Impact of Competition. In N. Couldry, M. Madianou, & A. Pinchevski, Ethics of Media (pp. 255-270). Hampshire: Palgrave Macmillan.

Shapiro, I. (2014, April 8). Phone Interview. (K. Fuller-Jackson, Interviewer)

Silverstone, R. (2007). Media and Morality: on the rise of the mediapolis. Cambridge: Polity Press.

The Guardian. (2013, December 31). Libel: new Defamation Act will reverse ‘chilling effect’, ministers claim. The Guardian. UK: Press Association.

The National Archives. (2013). Defamation Act 2013. Retrieved April 17, 2014, from legislation.gov.uk: http://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/2013/26/crossheading/requirement-of-serious-harm/enacted

Thompson, J. B. (2007). The Nature of Political Scandal. In R. Negrine, & J. Stanyer, The Political Communication Reader (pp. 261-265). London: Routledge.

United States Courts. (n.d.). New York Times v. Sullivan (1964). Retrieved April 17, 2014, from Supreme Court Landmarks: http://www.uscourts.gov/multimedia/podcasts/Landmarks/NewYorkTimesvSullivan.aspx

Zelizer, B. (2013). When Practice is Undercut by Ethics. In N. Couldry, M. Madianou, & A. Pinchevski, Ethics of Media (pp. 271-285). Hampshire: Palgrave Macmillan.

[1] See Doolittle, 2014; edited transcript in Appendix A

[2] A brief background of the Rob Ford scandal is given in Appendix A (See O’Beirne & Kolm, 2014)

[3] See Shapiro, 2014.

[4] See Stewart, 2014; and Blatchford, 2013.

[5] The right to reputation is a part of libel law, which will be discussed in Section 2.

[6] I acknowledge the differences in the various scandals, but for the purpose of this essay, I have chosen not to elaborate on the case of each individual scandal, and instead use the examples as a reference point to demonstrate the common ethical dilemmas across various news agencies and nations.

[7] See Hanitzsch, 2011, p.481.

[8] In 1960, the New York Times published an ad criticizing the Montgomery, Alabama police department and their treatment of civil rights protestors. The police commissioner, Sullivan, won his appeal in the Supreme Court of Alabama, but after arguing the case to the US Supreme Court pleading the First Amendment and winning their case, setting the tone for freedom of expression in American journalism. (United States Courts, 2014)

[9] See Phillips, 2013, p.262.

 Appendix A: Brief Background of Rob Ford Scandal

Before differentiating between ethical frameworks used by different news agencies, it is important to outline the unravelling of the Rob Ford scandal, and the ethical issues that were faced by the Toronto Star. Years before word of a video of the Toronto Mayor smoking crack cocaine ever emerged, Rob Ford was already making headlines. He was commonly seen in a drunken stupor in public and at political events, and was known for his aggressive behaviour both at work and at home. On April 1, 2013, Robyn Doolittle received a call from an anonymous source claiming to possess a video of the Mayor smoking crack. The source was demanding $100,000 for the video, and although he did not initially show the reporter the video, he eventually did in a future meeting on May 3. Meanwhile, the video was also shown to John Cook, the editor for the American tabloid website Gawker, who then proceeded to contact acquaintances at CNN to try and pool resources to purchase the video. Soon after, Gawker published a headline that read: “For Sale: A Video of Toronto Mayor Rob Ford Smoking Crack Cocaine”. The following day, the Toronto Star published on its front page “Ford in ‘Crack Video Scandal’”, along with a photo of Ford that was given to Doolittle by the initial seller of the video. A crowd-funding campaign was quickly started to raise money to purchase the video, and the Mayor immediately aggressively defended himself – along with his brother, Doug Ford – and the story was picked up by every major news agency in the city, some of whom claimed they were also contacted with an offer to purchase the video. After months of media speculation and a war of words between the Fords and the Toronto news media, in October, 2013, Toronto Police announced that in a separate drug investigation, they have retrieved the alleged video on a hard drive. (Kolm and O’Beirne, 2014)

Appendix B: Edited Transcript of the Daily Show

Part 1 of Interview:

Jon: So there’s rumours of domestic abuse, drugs, and absenteeism, and everyone waited a year…(laughter). How does he get away with this? …What keeps him loveable and in charge?

Robyn: Well, part of it, I think you guys take for granted how great your access to information laws… That’s a big part of the problem when you’re reporting on these issues, is it’s so hard to follow up on this stuff, and it took a full year to follow up on this investigation.

Part 2 of Interview:

Jon: What is Canada’s digestive process for how they destroy people? Because I know what we [Americans] do.

Robyn: You know part of the reason, because you asked me earlier, that something wasn’t done earlier – In Canada, we are much less comfortable with getting into people’s personal lives. So when I was writing the book, I was really torn about including details about his siblings, his wife, who are not elected officials. And that is the part of the story that is truly crazy, is the sister, two of his siblings struggled with hard drug addiction. His sister’s estranged husband murdered her boyfriend. She was shot in the face by another boyfriend…with her father’s gun… These details are hard to be pulled out…

Jon: Because of your culture.

Robyn: Because we’re just like, that’s their private business.

Part 3 of Interview:

Jon: What is your news media like up there? Are they conflict-based or do they also exercise restraint?

Robyn:…We are, very recently, evolving to an American style – thank you, America – where we’re seeing like talk radio… And I think talk radio contributed to this because the Fords ( there’s two of them, there’s a brother as well) will say things that aren’t true, and they’ll look into cameras, and just talk about it as fact. There’s not that sort of pause of fact-checking. And with talk radio, those errors become true.

Jon: Amplified.

Robyn: Right.

Jon:…Oh, you guys are going to start going in the shitter pretty soon. Yeah, it’s an absoluteloy crippling phenomenon that paralyzes a country’s ability to address its own problems, which in many ways, is the story of Rob Ford.

Robyn: And then we’re going to need a Daily Show to point out those hypocrisies.

*Photo courtesy of CTV News


Media and the Middle Ground

Credit: GazaTV

Credit: GazaTV

As a Canadian living abroad, I make sure to keep up with my news from the homeland. Every morning, along with my BBC and CNN, I open my CTV app on my iPhone and scroll through the headlines, usually picking up on the stories that only Canadian news is covering. As I did my routine browse yesterday I saw the expected headlines for international affairs: Ebola, Ukraine, and Gaza. As I read more carefully however I noticed a particular framing of an article on Gaza that caught me off guard. As the world is now hearing every day, hundreds of civilians are being killed in Gaza with around 60 UN schools having been shelled, Israel accusing Hamas of storing weapons there and using human shields, and Hamas denying it. The statistics of civilian casualties in Palestine have now soared over 1700, while Israel has seen the loss of reportedly 63 soldiers. The media has no doubt picked up these staggering numbers, which is why it struck me to see an article headlined ‘Israeli soldier believed captured by Hamas declared dead’. Along with the headline was a picture of the fallen soldier, followed by an extensive article on the soldier, his family, and the out-pour of support and prayer in commemoration of his life. Only at the bottom of the article was there given the statistic of Palestinians killed and injured thus far in the conflict.

Firstly, let me say as an academic, a former development worker, and as a writer, I fully believe in journalistic standards of objectivity and impartiality. I highly advocate in telling two sides of a story, and even though journalism is not my profession, I think it’s extremely important to continually educate ourselves and critically evaluate the information we receive on just about any global issue. These are qualities that I would also hope extend to professional journalists and news organizations. I was appalled however at CTV’s blatant bias presented in this article and the insensitivity it showed to Palestinian families losing children, brothers, wives, and friends every day by not identifying them and showing them the same respect on the news bulletin. I think it is fully acceptable to report on the loss of a human life and to show condolences, but every human life has value, and if you intend on reporting one, I would not only expect, but demand you also report the others. How on earth could CTV publish over 1700 obituaries do you ask? Who knows, but that’s the question they should’ve asked when they first hit ‘Publish’.

The article spoke to me in a broader sense about journalistic values. Recently I conducted research on conflict reporting and ‘journalism of attachment’. When former BBC correspondent Martin Bell coined the term after Kosovo, he felt that reporting both sides dispassionately wasn’t right: one side was getting pummeled by the other and he felt the responsibility to shed light on it. Through my interviews with reporters today, however, this is not a reconciled issue, and many people I spoke with took issue with the idea of taking sides. Some of these journalists are currently in Gaza reporting on the continual tragedies of warfare in what they know to be the fairest way possible, and yet these journalists also take the brunt of media criticism, being accused of bias through social media. From an outsider’s perspective, I can’t see how reporting the facts and casualties is in any way bias, as long as you treat the ones on the other side of the table with the same respect.

Is it possible then that the media is shaping international public opinion of this war? Yes, absolutely, and this is likely the case. Between issues of political allies and religion, this never-ending conflict tears public opinion, but what the media must do is not tear their audience and respect their role as a trustworthy, ethical news establishment. And so, CTV, I challenge you to publish more obituary-style articles. I want to know about who the world lost, I want to grieve with the families, but next time, please don’t tell me where they’re from and let’s keep the media as peaceful as we hope these countries to be.


Link to article (note that the photo shown of the fallen soldier was the only image in the mobile version at the top of the page):







In Pictures: Portraits of Asia

Immediately upon graduating university, I felt a desperate need to breathe a big sigh of relief and take time for myself. I also knew in the back of my head that I needed to conceptualize a graduation portfolio for my Professional Photography program at Langara College. The obvious solution? Traveling! Five months, Three Cameras, and an Untrained Sense of Adventure was an opportunity for me to explore an area of the world with which I was fairly unfamiliar, and to re-catch my breath in the endless game of life. In the end, I built a portfolio of portraits that for me, bring back a flood of memories and thoughts. With my portfolio, I submitted the following description:

My initial goal in attending the Langara Continuing Studies Professional Photography program was to develop my skills as a photojournalist, particularly in travel photography, as this is a supporting element in my current career path. Throughout the program, I realized that I had great difficulty in approaching my subjects, and attaining an image that evoked some sort of connotative characteristic from the subject. In completing my graduation portfolio, my aim was to approach subjects in a variety of manners – sometimes anonymously, sometimes extremely personally – and capture a frame that tells the viewer something evocative about the subject’s life and persona, something more than a simple snapshot can ever portray.

As a travel enthusiast who focuses on international development, I chose to complete my portfolio while traveling through Southeast Asia for a period of four months. My experiences varied from extremely personal encounters with locals, to more tourist-oriented scenarios, to attempting to integrate myself into the routine daily life of a given country. While language barriers created certain communication difficulties, I attempted to create unique relationships and interactions with each of my subjects, while also accounting for photographic compositional elements that I integrated into my considerations as a photographer through my education at Langara.

Hopefully these images provide a source of inspiration for travel and the art of photography. Also my personal travel blog can be viewed at: