By Daniela Olariu (RSJ ’17)
From the story of an indoor amusement park in Etobicoke that is struggling to survive, to an indigenous tattoo parlour in Moss Park and the journey of a Leslieville musician, second-year RSJ students have been working hard to produce features as part of a first-of-its kind online multimedia magazine.
Project T. (pronounced t-dot) launched on April 11 and showcases a variety of people, places and things in eight neighbourhoods across Toronto.
“Students have really worked hard on making their features better and better and it’s been extraordinary to watch the stories come to life both in the words and the multimedia elements,” said Ivor Shapiro, Professor and Associate Dean of Undergraduate Education and Student Affairs.
T. is part of the required JRN 272 (Feature Writing and Current Affairs) and JRN 273 (Boosting Media Techniques) courses co-instructed by Shapiro and Marie Espérance Cerda in the Winter semester. Eight writing coaches also worked alongside the students to provide guidance on their media elements, writing and reporting techniques.
How the idea came about
The project comes after the school changed the structure of the feature writing course from being taught in sections to smaller writing labs.
Once that decision was made, the idea of producing a written feature as well as a multimedia feature that would be published as an online magazine was established.
“For the first time as far as i’m aware, second-year students at the RSJ have a published project in which to showcase their work for class,” Shapiro said.
What the project provides second-year students
Project T. makes students jump from thinking about journalism as news writing to thinking about it as feature writing.
“It’s a way to think about reporting that isn’t just about the new thing that happened yesterday, but the ongoing issues that people, places and things go through in their everyday lives and community,” Shapiro said.
Students create a relationship with their sources and learn about people’s lives and activities in a larger context, such as cultural, identity, religion, history and economic difference.
On the writing side, it’s an opportunity to work on their descriptive writing, which isn’t a large aspect of news writing.
“In all of these ways, we’re trying to introduce description, context and the opportunity to keep working on a story beyond just filing it on the same day and moving on to another story. That produces different challenges and learning experiences,” Shapiro said.
A student’s perspective
Nadia Brophy is one of the students who was part of project T. Her feature, At the Corner of Art, Accessibility and Community, is about a studio in Dufferin Grove that makes the traditional paper art practice accessible to all kinds of communities.
At first, she struggled to find a story but overcame this challenge with persistence and courage.
“I went through multiple PPTs (person, places and things) trying to gather information that I could develop into a quality story and I felt burned out fairly quickly when they weren’t working out… If I hadn’t mustered up the courage to explore my options without any worry of what could go wrong, I wouldn’t have had the great opportunity of working with Paperhouse Studio.” she said.
An important lesson she learned while working on her feature is to pay close attention to her surroundings.
“I found I would often get distracted by recording audio and conducting interviews, that I would forget to thoroughly observe what was around me. This is an essential for feature writing, since you are instructed to provide vivid description of your PPT and its surroundings.”
She also said that it’s crucial to develop a good relationship with the subjects.
“When you have a good relationship with your PPT and let them know all about what you’re doing, they will likely be quite responsive when you have questions even beyond the interview period.”
Brophy’s advice to students doing a similar project in the future is to plan ahead before heading out to the neighbourhood.
“I found I didn’t do enough research prior to looking for stories, and it left me dumbfounded as to where I was supposed to go to find quality content. Research the area, look through Facebook groups in the community, and head out to a few that sound the most interesting.”
The bigger picture
Shapiro said the project as a whole gives people a sense of Toronto.
“If a person comes to Project T., I think they will see a portrait of a city that is incredibly diverse and people, places and things in different parts of the city that have different backgrounds and reasons to exist,” he said.
“It’s alive, vibrant and energetic and it’s all told from a very youthful perspective.”
Despite being disoriented at the beginning, Brophy is happy with the final outcome of her feature.
“I think my feature offers thorough information about my subject through the text, while also having a good balance of interesting multimedia…. I hope readers feel immersed in my work through my description, as I worked hard to create stimulating visuals that remain in the mind and remind the reader of the subject matter of the piece, even after they have finished reading.”