By Stefanie Phillips, RSJ ’18
sphillips@ryerson.ca

More than 100 journalists and scholars from around the world gathered this summer for “Is No Local News Bad News? Local Journalism and its Future,a conference hosted by the Ryerson Journalism Research Centre (RJRC).

Attendees from Poland, Australia, France, the U.S., the U.K. and Canada met at the Rogers Communication Centre on June 3-4 to discuss the decline of local news and how it affects the communities involved.

The event included panel discussions and lightning talks, featuring academics from North American universities, community councillors and journalists. Among the panelists were Damian Radcliffe from the University of Oregon and Guelph municipal councillor, James Gordon.

RJRC director April Lindgren, the lead organizer for the event and associate professor at the Ryerson School of Journalism, said the conference, “helped to create a sense of community among researchers that are interested in the state of local news.”

Lindgren has been running the Local News Research Project for almost 10 years. The project examines Canadian local news coverage at a time when many outlets are cutting down, closing or consolidating. She believes that yes, no local news is bad news.

“Local news is like a thread that draws communities together,” she said. “Local news holds power accountable and the third thing it does is informs citizens so that we have the information we need to participate in decision making when decisions are being made in our community that potentially affect us.”

In addition to discussing good examples of local news coverage (one example was Toronto Star‘s coverage of the city’s carding issues, in the “Known to Police” series by reporters, Jim Rankin and Patty Winsa), a session focused on the challenges local journalists faced in covering complex emergencies like the Ebola crisis in West Africa while panelists in a session titled “Reporting on Indigenous communities in Canada: Local people, local places, local issues” discussed best practices for reporting on Indigenous issues, as well as more opportunities for greater journalism training opportunities for Indigenous  journalists highlighted in a piece by panelist and journalist Wawmeesh Hamilton in Discourse Media.

“In many places there is still great journalism being done that makes a difference in people’s lives and the lives of their communities,” Lindgren said.

Collaboration between newsrooms and journalism schools was another topic up for discussion at the event. Speakers on the panel, The Student Solution, said these collaborations can give valuable experience to students and fill gaps in local coverage.

Archie McLean, panelist and assistant professor of journalism at Mount Royal University in Calgary, spoke to the RJRC about the importance of doing college and university journalism right.

“If campus journalism news sites are serious about filling the news gap then they need to be better on social media and do it differently,” he said.

Presenters and speakers at the conference were invited to make submissions to the multimedia conference publication that is expected to come out in the spring. The publication will be published online by the RJRC.

You can visit the RJRC website to watch full videos from the conference and read stories on the event.