Hey y’all! Anita here. In the context of the recent U.S. presidential election, it feels like a lifetime since my last newsletter came out — at least, judging by the fast and furious news cycle, which has frequently seemed like a mad dog chasing its own tail since outgoing President Donald Trump began running for office in 2015. Welcome back 🐕
My insider’s approach
Apparently, Facebook was on everyone’s minds two weeks ago when I wrote about the complicated relationship journalists have with the platform. One day after this newsletter went out, The Toronto Star asked me to comment on an announcement from a group of major Canadian publishers (including Torstar, which owns the paper) that want the federal government to allow them to collectively bargain with Facebook and Google when negotiating the use of their content, citing the tech giants’ overwhelming dominance in the online ad market. Here’s the gist of what I said:
After the article was published on Monday, Canadaland asked me to co-host a Short Cuts episode called “Facebook Fangoria” in which Jesse Brown and I dissect its framing. Curiously, the headline, “Why Canada’s media industry is in more danger than you think — and what we can do to save it,” reads as alarmist and prescriptive; it’s more appropriate for an op-ed than for a news article, especially since only one solution — heavy regulation of big tech— is tabled in the piece. (I share more solutions during my chat with Jesse, including ways Canadian media outlets can diversify their revenue streams beyond ads, so have a listen and let me know what you think.)
In addition to the industry buzz around Facebook, some of you sent me impassioned responses to my last newsletter, weighing in on the debate about whether journalism practitioners should work with the social network. Here are two comments from The Other Wave subscribers Adam Hooper and Owen McDermott, which represent opposing sides of the debate, respectively:
My way of looking at it: A big company is investing in ‘good’ ideas. Maybe we should let it. We can't psychoanalyze a company — it's not a person. We shouldn't pretend a company has a single intent, either — it's an ocean of ideas. A company can do ‘bad’ and ‘good’ at the same time. I liken this to British Petrol. BP excavates unfathomable amounts of carbon — wreaking havoc on our climate. BP has also committed to carbon neutrality in 2050. Let's not boycott BP's ‘good’ energy, just because we don't like its ‘bad’ energy. Facebook has harmed newsrooms. I'm glad Facebook is investing in helping them, too.
Facebook, Twitter [and] Google are publishers with incredible power, and...represent a very small group of websites people will visit on a daily basis, thereby shaping their opinions and attitudes. The fact that so much $$$$ is going to these monopolies in ad dollars further [exacerbates] the situation. To be on these platforms during these times is to be embraced by these platforms and their ideology. In an incendiary, always-on new cycle — with algorithms trending articles on these platforms — well, again these can trend in ways that might benefit investor bottom lines and ad buys. Thus, IMO, journalists/ism should remain detached from these organizations (although any article can be shared by users). In the end, journalism must serve the people.
Thanks for chiming in, Adam and Owen. I always love to hear a wide range of perspectives, so please add your take in the comments or by replying to this email.
My outsider’s approach
One consequence of relying too much on ad dollars to drive revenue is that journalism outlets focus on serving third parties rather than the news-consuming public. Why? Advertising prioritizes quantity over quality of articles because it depends on clicks to generate revenue, so the goal is to produce as much content as possible — regardless of how good it is. After working at American venture capital-backed media startups that prioritized investor returns and scale over impact, I wanted to return to mission-focused journalism; that’s one of the reasons why I joined my former employer The Discourse in 2017. When I worked at the B.C.-based outlet, we didn’t accept ad revenue, and instead focused on building up our sources of consumer revenue, including the development of a membership program.
I really started questioning the ad model and its impact on newsrooms four years ago when I worked in New York City as justice editor at a now-defunct digital publication called Fusion, which served progressive and politically engaged millennials. Despite the fact that my small team of reporters and freelancers consistently produced — and strived to produce — solid journalism (including coverage of the 2016 U.S. presidential election), we were all burnt out from running on a never-ending content treadmill that failed to satiate the advertising beast. While some of our articles made an impact on readers, I had the distinct impression that many more were quickly forgotten amidst the sea of content from other ad-driven publications.
As someone who’s both a producer and consumer of news, I often think about this problem from the other side. A constant barrage of poorly reported articles with negative headlines that only serve to polarize and demoralize has turned off consumers, compromising their trust in the media. Fortunately, research suggests that people are willing to pay for quality journalism, which is why media industries in Canada and elsewhere must invest in consumer-focused business models that tie the success of the product (i.e. journalism) to the satisfaction of the customer (i.e. readers, viewers and listeners).
There are many ways to produce this kind of engaging journalism, including newsgathering approaches rooted in community-driven journalism and solutions journalism, which I’ll explore in more detail in future newsletters. Stay tuned...
Excuse me while I fangirl! Thank you, Hannah Sung, for your supportive comment from several newsletters ago:
Just wanted to say I'm loving your newsletter. This one, with Simpsons icons, is such a brilliant and funny idea.
Hannah, a Canadian media icon, really needs no introduction. So all I’ll say is that you should read and subscribe to her fresh newsletter, At The End Of The Day, immediately.
In my community
I spoke on a Massey College panel called, "Objectivity in Canadian media in the wake of Black Lives Matter," alongside Rachel Giese, editorial director of Xtra; Adrian Harewood, co-anchor of CBC News Ottawa; Jeffrey Dvorkin, former director of University of Toronto at Scarborough’s journalism program; and Duncan McCue, host of CBC Radio One’s Cross Country Checkup
Media Girlfriends, a podcast company and network started by CBC Radio One host Nana aba Duncan, launched its 2021 student scholarship last month; the organizers are less than $4,000 away from their goal, so help them reach it by donating here
Sarah Thompson, chief strategy officer of ad agency Mindshare, appealed to marketers to help save local Canadian media in a recent blog post; in it, she tells them to contact their agencies and “ask them to shift 2 to 4% of [their] overall media investment to local news and quality journalism”
The Institut du Nouveau Monde, a Montreal-based non-partisan organization dedicated to promoting civic participation, invited me to “Dialogue on the Role of the Media in Canadian Democracy,” a series of sessions that convene 26 media experts across the country for discussions about challenges facing Canadian media
Cool stuff I like
Aaron Sorkin’s The Trial of the Chicago 7, a new film that you can stream on Netflix Canada, was exactly what I needed to watch after consistently tackling equity issues in Canadian media over the past year; it was reassuring to know that role models who came before me also experienced and overcame similar challenges to the ones I’ve faced when doing advocacy work
I highly recommend revisiting this 2017 article by NPR’s Code Switch about the myth of the “model minority,” especially since Canada has seen a recent rise in anti-Asian sentiment due to racist COVID-related stereotypes
As a lover of philosophy, Brainpickings is one of my favourite sites to visit; I share creator Maria Popova’s concern about the tendency in contemporary culture to mistake cynicism for critical thinking, which is why I re-read her essay on “Hope, Cynicism and the Stories We Tell Ourselves” every so often
How you can support The Other Wave
My professional mission has always been to support the global movement towards more thoughtful, impactful news coverage, and all the ways that manifests. If The Other Wave gets you to think even a little differently about journalism, especially in Canada, then I will have accomplished what I set out to do. And if TOW gets you to take action and support Canadian media outlets — especially ones that strive to be innovative and inclusive — I will have exceeded my expectations.
If my values and goals resonate with you, I’d really appreciate any contribution you can make to The Other Wave, whether it's providing feedback, passing along resources, donating money or simply sharing this newsletter with your friends.
See ya in two weeks,