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Tag: Canadian journalism

Somya Lohia

From aspiration to achievement: my journey as an immigrant

In the dimly lit confines of my basement, I was drawing a bright picture of my Canadian dream in my mind. Amidst the shadows, I envisioned myself interviewing a celebrity. However, the abrupt scurrying of a rat and a resounding thud from above snapped me back to reality, reminding me that it was time to prepare for another day at the local retail store.

Six months had passed since I moved to Canada, leaving behind a safe job as a journalist and my life in India. With my dreams packed neatly into suitcases, I arrived in Toronto. I felt hopeful as I stepped out of the airport. The towering skyscrapers, the impressive office buildings, the pristine roads, intricate flyovers and the luxury cars passing by — each sight nourished the seed of confidence within me that I was on the cusp of a successful career and a future filled with prosperity and luxury.

However, that “seed” of hope was quickly crushed as I reached the rented basement in Brampton that has become my home in this foreign land.

Perhaps you wonder why I chose to rent a basement studio. The answer lies in the exorbitant housing costs in Canada, especially in major cities like Toronto. Renting a basement emerged as the most economical choice for a newcomer. Little did I know that this economic choice would come with its own set of challenges.

Prior to my arrival, my social media feeds were brimming with videos showing everything about Canada — the food, the stores and the extensive list of attractions to visit. But the reality of residing in a cramped basement with compromised safety, steep rent, tough landlords, lack of natural light, and crawling rats and worms was never revealed in any glossy video. The constant thumping and noise from the floor above have become the soundtrack of my new life.

 

Ad for Creekview Dental Hygiene clinic in Pincher Creek

 

Isolation was another significant challenge. I soon realized that the landlords and people nearby were polite but they didn’t want to be friends. They thought that newcomers like me were only temporarily dwelling in such accommodations, aiming to move into condominiums once we secured stable employment.

The solitude, cold days and the darkness of the room began to take a toll on my mental well-being, and the daunting task of building a career from scratch exacerbated my anxiety.

If you find this alarming, brace yourself, for this was merely the beginning; the real challenge emerged as I began my job search.

Having been a journalist for eight years in four reputable media houses in India, I initially pursued opportunities in my field. From scouring job boards online to reaching out to editors via emails and even knocking on the doors of their offices, I did everything possible to land a job. However, negative responses made it clear that I needed to be flexible to survive in this new environment.

After a series of unsuccessful attempts, I set aside my laptop and decided to explore job fairs — the bustling carnivals of employers offering opportunities in a vast hall showcasing promising careers.

Dressed in my finest attire, I headed out to attend one such event in downtown Toronto. As I navigated the city, rehearsing the lines I had meticulously prepared for potential employers, I could feel my anticipation building with every step. Having completed the initial formalities, I stepped inside a large hall with hope rekindled and that persistent “seed” of ambition in my heart — albeit for only a few fleeting moments.

 

Ad for Dragons Heart Quilt Shop in Pincher Creek

 

Inside were hundreds of people like me, all vying for a chance at a career breakthrough. I stood in queues for every company to submit my resume, and hoped that at least a few companies would respond. I rarely got to utter my well-rehearsed lines, as the recruiters were busy piling up resumes, politely stating they would get in touch with the most promising candidates.

I have since ventured to several job fairs with the same hope and determination, each time depositing my professional aspirations onto stacks of paper, delivered to waiting hands. The much-anticipated calls and emails never came.

Amid the gloom of my basement and the seemingly unyielding career challenges, two things keep me going: nature and people. From sunny afternoons to breezy evenings, nature always succeeds in cheering me up. The surrounding pine trees, colourful flowers, lush parks, trails and serene lakes have become my lifeline. They provide solace and rejuvenate my spirit to face the hurdles ahead.

Equally uplifting are the diverse people I encounter in this culturally rich country. Every evening as I venture out I know that some people will greet me. In parks and during chance encounters, people from various backgrounds offer kindness and support, unknowingly bolstering my resolve to face another day in my modest dwelling.

 

Ad for Sara Hawthorn, Pincher Creek and Crowsnest Pass realtor

 

Months passed, and, despite my best efforts to secure a writing job, I had no choice but to accept a position in retail to make ends meet in this new land. Engulfed in the whirlwind of hourly payments, weekly schedules and battling the elements to reach the store on time, I found myself far from the direction I had envisioned.

The computer, once a tool for crafting impactful articles, assisted me in processing orders and handling billings. My interactions had shifted from reporting on the public’s grievances to helping customers find the right outfit.

While the store job differed greatly from my original aspirations and I was facing immense challenges, the “seed” of aspiration remained firmly planted within me, nurturing the hope that one day I would achieve my dreams in this country and once again write to bring about a positive change in Canadian society.

And now, as I pen these words, a new chapter unfolds. I am thrilled to announce that I have secured a position as a reporter for Shootin’ the Breeze, a Pincher Creek-based newspaper.

With this opportunity, I embark on the path towards realizing my dream of becoming a renowned journalist in Canada. With gratitude in my heart and optimism in my soul, I step forward, ready to script the next chapter of my Canadian adventure.

 

Table setting of wedding venue — the Cowley Lions Campground Stockade near Pincher Creek in southwestern Alberta.

 

Ad for Blinds and More in Pincher Creek and Crowsnest Pass
Old-fashioned typewriter with "fake news" text

Media, misinformation and Meta

Last month I debuted the Jaunty Journo Jargon column with a blurb about the history of journalism and the foundations for the press. This week, I’d like to talk about a less jaunty, timeless issue that is garnering much contemporary attention: misinformation.

This topic was highly relevant to my journalism courses in Ottawa for a few reasons. Firstly, the examination of misinformation through the years shows some of the critical ways it has shaped journalism. Secondly, it’s an issue that merits a special kind of attention from journalists today. Thirdly, it’s a topic that my first semester journalism professor, Sarah Everts, has some personal experience with.

Terminology is important. In class, we defined misinformation as being misguided, often widespread, information. Conversely, disinformation refers to a malicious, intentional attempt to misinform the public. Both are highly relevant topics of discussion, but misinformation is going to be what news readers are most familiar with, and what is often most dangerous.

As wide-spreading information became more attainable, the potential for fabrications naturally grew, but what makes misinformation so special is what goes into its transmission. It’s easier, and often more convincing, to spread falsehoods if you genuinely believe you are right.

So how do you know if you’re wrong? As a journalist, I’d like to give a special shout-out to the concept of journalistic standards. Confirming facts. Being accurate. Acting objectively. Publicizing the truth.

 

Ad for Aurora Eggert Coaching in Beaver Mines

 

These universally accepted cornerstones of journalism get their fame out of the necessity brought up by the potential for the efficient spread of misinformation under the guise of “news.” Essentially, we want you to know what makes us different.

Despite these values, however, the actual process of spreading information has become easier than ever. It’s not hard to see why. It’s everywhere. And it almost always ties back to social media. 

Professor Everts focused much of her research at Carleton University on the percentages of Canadians who take misinformation as fact, and the overlap with the percentages of Canadians who are confident they can differentiate the two.

A survey asked Canadians if they felt they could tell when something online is true, and presented them with four conspiracy theories about Covid-19. Fifty-seven per cent believed they could “easily distinguish conspiracy theories and misinformation from actual information about Covid-19.” Forty-six per cent believed at least one of the myths they were presented with.

Of the respondents, 49 per cent of those who believed Covid-19 was a bioweapon invented by the Chinese, and 58 per cent who believed Covid-19 is a cover-up to the illness inflicted by exposure to 5G wireless technology, believed they could easily distinguish what online information is fact.

Tying back to the discussion of journalistic standards, what stands out about the spread of misinformation like this is the distancing from facts, accuracy, objectivity and truth. 

 

 

This is a critical conversation today, because in the last week we’ve seen Meta, the tech giant that controls Facebook and Instagram, block Canadian news for Canadians.

The definition from federal Bill C-18, the legislation Meta says this decision is in response to, defines news with several requirements, most notably that of adhering to recognized process and principles of the journalistic profession; those standards.

That’s us.

The Beaverton, a Canadian satire publication, was also initially blocked, but contested and successfully overturned this by pointing out in an open letter to Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg that they don’t employ journalistic standards. While their letter was funny, it was also incredibly sad to have the point driven home that in order to avoid the censorship of your content, you simply have to not abide by journalistic standards. 

So for Shootin’ the Breeze, whose Facebook page provided critical and potentially life-saving information about issues like the Kenow fire and Covid-19 is blocked, content creators who don’t value delivery accuracy are fair game. 

An open statement by Nick Clegg, Meta president, detailed why they felt this move was appropriate, citing among other things that Canadian news content “isn’t that important to [their] users.”

I wonder, is it important to you?

 

Have you heard, written in white chalk on a blackboard

Google and Meta plan to ban Canadian news

Have you heard the news?

Google and Meta, the biggest players in the world of social media, intend to start blocking Canadian news stories in response to the passage of Bill C-18.

“Real journalism, created by real journalists, continues to be demanded by Canadians and is vital to our democracy, but it costs real money,” Paul Deegan, president and CEO of News Media Canada, said after the Bill passed June 22.

That afternoon, Lisa Sygutek of the Crowsnest Pass Herald, Amanda Zimmer of the Claresholm Local Press, myself and other board members of the Alberta Weekly Newspapers Association, heard directly from Paul.

Board president Evan Jamison of the St. Albert Gazette and AWNA executive director Dennis Merrill have made several trips east to share information on behalf of Alberta newspapers at hearings regarding this bill. They have kept members apprised of progress with Bill C-18 and roadblocks along the way.

Collectively, I think we felt cautious optimism after the discussion with Paul, with an emphasis on the word cautious.

Lisa also felt positive about a class-action lawsuit she and the Pass Herald have launched against Google and Facebook on behalf of Canadian newspapers. This is a tale for another day.

Social media outlets earn big dollars from Canadian journalism. Every share of a news article equals a cha-ching on their cash register.

We benefit as well. Social media can drive traffic to the Shootin’ the Breeze website as it is a quick way to advise our followers of new content and breaking news.

For every fraction of a penny we earn as people scroll past a Google ad on the Breeze website, Google earns many, many, many times more. The same thing happens on Facebook. 

Meta and Google earn dollars to the pennies left to businesses that do the work. This applies to shared content of all kinds, from recipes to travel blogs, and is not limited to newspapers.

 

Aerial view of the Cowley Lions Campground on the Castle River in southwestern Alberta

 

When negotiations over C-18 began, it was said that Canadian media would stand unified in this bid for just compensation for the money social media outlets earn from their work.

However, some larger players quickly struck independent deals with Meta and Google. Only they and the flies on the wall know the details of the deals and the value of the compensation.

A big problem right now is that most of us lack a clear understanding of what losing and winning look like.

No one seems to know just how the news blocking will work.

When you consider the significant information Google and Meta hold about us all, it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to determine who’s in and who’s out.

It took only one day for Meta to spring into action against Bill C-18.

“We are confirming that news availability will be ended on Facebook and Instagram for all users in Canada prior to the Online News Act (Bill C-18) taking effect,” Meta announced June 22.

The press release says, “As drafted, the legislation states that news outlets are in scope if they primarily report on, investigate or explain current issues or events of public interest.”

This encompasses virtually all Canadian media and, while they will continue to have access to their Facebook and Instagram accounts and pages, and to post to them, “some content will not be viewable in Canada.”

On June 29, Google announced its own plans to block and remove news in Canada on its search engine, aggregator and Discover app.

 

 

While the Pincher Creek Echo no longer exists in a traditional print or digital format, Postmedia, its parent company, made a deal with Google last summer and is reportedly paid for news content.

In the same announcement last week, Google said it would end deals currently in place with Canadian publishers.

It’s a dog-eat-dog world where there will be winners and losers. It looks like the big social media dogs have decided they will simply take the ball and run with it rather than enter into negotiations with us little guys.

This may seem like a lot of talk about money. While it was nice to imagine generating more revenue (if only for a moment), the reality is that small independent publishers, like many of us in southwestern Alberta, are not in a good place to be staring revenue reduction in the face.

Yes, the dollars matter, but it’s about more than that to me and to every community newspaper publisher I know.

There is a difference between news and journalism, and what Google and Meta are doing stands to give fake news an opportunity to thrive.

I’ve hated the term since former U.S. president Donald Trump made it popular and overused it, but it is real.

Canadian publishers are held to ethical standards and accountable for their news presentation.

Have you heard, is not how any news article should begin unless it is clearly marked as editorial content. Word on the street is not always true and little accountability exists when it’s not, whether intentionally or simply in error.

 

 

As a publisher, my integrity is on the line every time I write an article or print one by my staff. That even goes to letters to the editor — when we know something is incorrect, hateful or offside, it either doesn’t run or is discussed with the author and corrected.

We are human and when we make mistakes our team owns them, corrects them and offers a sincere apology.

We are journalists and integrity is at the heart of what we do.

As someone dedicated to community service, I do my utmost to make sure people know of emergency-room closures, wild weather alerts and evacuation notices. My team members do the same.

In preparation for a news-blocking scenario, we are working on some “Plan Bs” in the background. We will do everything within our power to ensure you receive important and factual information in a timely manner. More than that, we will continue sharing community stories and keeping you connected with your neighbours.

Social media has changed greatly over the past 15 years. Facebook was once a place for connecting with family and friends. Now it’s hard to find those types of posts when you log on.

Anonymity has also created a breeding ground for misinformation and hatred and I shudder what they will look like down the road.

Our followers will find the Breeze website a pleasant, interactive space as we shift our focus from sharing content on social media to turning shootinthebreeze.ca into a community hub for southwestern Alberta.

Google and Meta have been testing news blocking over the winter and spring, and I’m sure we will see significant changes in the near future. 

Meta’s press statement closes with, “While these product tests are temporary, we intend to end the availability of news content in Canada permanently following the passage of Bill C-18.”