What sports journalism really means to athletes

Chronicling the often adversarial relationship between athletes and the media

What sports journalism really means to athletes

While the relationship between the media and athletes can be a mutually beneficial one, in which the media sells headlines and the players receive a platform and personal branding, it can also be incredibly strained and turbulent.  

For instance, the relationship between the media and the England national football team has been crumbling for years. After an early exit from the Euro 2016, England’s soccer culture appeared to be in crisis. Instead of celebrating the team as representative of English national identity, diversity, and values, the media singled out players and the manager as scapegoats for England’s lacklustre performance. Players like Adam Lallana, Dele Alli, Frank Lampard, and Kyle Walker have claimed that the media was partially at fault for the low morale in the squad and among the fans. According to the players, the overwhelming negativity from the media interferes with the team’s mindset and instills a fear of backlash from having a bad game.  

Fans voiced their agreement when they accused the media of continuously harming the team’s chances to perform at their highest level. Among the criticisms were claims that the media tries to “get them when they’re at their weakest… where the public can resonate with it and point fingers.” Many went on to say that the media hypes the team up just to knock them back down once results stop coming in. 

The overly critical nature of sports journalism is not the only issue: athletes often lose patience with what they perceive to be redundant or excessively pointed questions in post-match interviews and press conferences, leading to dramatic walkouts and frustrated outbursts. 

At the 2018 NBA Finals, LeBron James walked out of a post-game press conference after being asked about JR Smith’s notorious blunder running the clock of a tied Game 1, which the Cleveland Cavaliers would eventually lose to the Golden State Warriors in overtime. Current Juventus and then-Real Madrid soccer player Cristiano Ronaldo similarly walked out from a post-game conference in 2016 when he was asked about his away-goal drought despite his team’s winning streak. 

The pressure placed on athletes by the media can harm both their professional performances and their mental health. After victory, athletes are portrayed as heroes; losses are frequently accompanied by criticism and judgment. In response to fears that negative media backlash could distract athletes, official committees such as the Canadian Olympic Committee and the Japanese Skating Federation have organized media training sections and sent formal requests to newspapers respectively. After the 2004 Athens Olympics, Chinese diver Peng Bo reminded audiences, “We’re ordinary people. We feel pressure, and sometimes we can’t help having distracting thoughts. Please understand us.” 

Sports media coverage becomes even more troubling for athletes when it involves baseless claims and rumours about their private lives. Responding to newspapers’ suggestions of affairs with his teammates’ wives, Chicago Blackhawks forward Patrick Sharp said, “When people delve into your personal life and make up rumours and things that are completely false and untrue, it takes a toll on you.” On the subject, Chicago Sun-Times columnist Rick Morrissey explained, “Just because you can write something doesn’t mean you should.”

Players have also been quick to call out biases in media coverage. For example, Manchester City striker Raheem Sterling has criticized the racist undertones of soccer coverage in a recent Instagram post. Sterling, who is a frequent victim of racial abuse from soccer fans, compared the media’s treatment of teammates 21-year-old Black Tosin Adarabioyo and 18-year-old white Phil Foden. Sterling juxtaposed two Daily Mail headlines, with one remarking on Adarabioyo “splash[ing] out” on a mansion for his mother “despite having never started a Premier League match” and the other reporting on “starlet” Foden “buy[ing] [a] new £2m home for his mum.” Through their tone and word choice regarding lifestyle choices and form, the media “helps fuel racism [and] aggressive behaviour,” Sterling claimed. 

Sports journalism has the power to connect athletes and fans, analyze games and plays, and celebrate the sport. This capacity, however, is only truly fulfilled when the media holds itself to a high standard with dignity and respect for both athletes and themselves. 

Scarborough Campus Students’ Union moves to control media access to meetings

Motion claims that student media are “abusing” position, “misrepresenting reality”

Scarborough Campus Students’ Union moves to control media access to meetings

Claiming that “student media have been abusing their positions as disseminators and aggregators of information,” the Scarborough Campus Students’ Union (SCSU) Board of Directors voted unanimously on December 12 on a first step to passing a motion to control student media accreditation and access to meetings.

The item was moved by Director of Political Science Raymond Dang and was carried from a previous meeting held on November 27. At the December meeting, the board voted to refer the item to its governance committee for further amendments.

Dang wrote in his motion that student media have been “misrepresenting the reality of the situation,” and that “recent days have shown the entire campus can be misled on important topics relating to their lives.”

During the discussion, Dang said that “it was very disappointing to see a lot of the reporting not just by existing student organizations but start-up student organizations this semester reporting falsely on what the Board of Directors have done.”

However, since Dang would not “repeat any sort of false information or misleading information that was said or not said elsewhere,” it is unclear what coverage Dang was referring to.

The Varsity most recently covered the SCSU’s November Board of Directors meeting, in which Dang moved a controversial motion to give $4,500 to the UTSC Women’s and Trans Centre, despite students voting against giving the funding at SCSU’s Annual General Meeting (AGM).

The Varsity and The Underground have also reported on the string of food quality issues that have occurred at SCSU-affiliated outlets this semester.

Dang wrote in his motion that “students rely on their fellow student journalists to accurately report the truth and hold power to account,” and called for student publications to submit requests to be recognized so that they can cover the SCSU.

The union’s bylaws already recognize student publications as “The Varsity, The Underground, Fusion Radio or any other student media either print or online.” Bylaw changes must be ratified at a meeting of members, such as the AGM.

Under Dang’s proposed policy, an ad hoc committee that would consist of the vice-president operations, vice-president external, and three directors to be chosen by the Board of Directors would make decisions on media access.

The SCSU would also adopt the Canadian Association of Journalists’ ethics standards as “guiding principles.” The guidelines touch on subjects such as independence, transparency, and accountability.

Since the motion was originally moved at the November meeting, the dates proposed in the text have already passed. As such, it is unclear when the committee will meet and by what date student publications will be required to submit applications, although Dang motioned for the governance committee to discuss the item at its first possible meeting.

According to the motion as it stands, changes will come into effect on January 1 if immediate action is taken, and will be enforced throughout the remainder of the academic year. All student media must apparently apply or reapply for accreditation for the union to either reaffirm or deny access.

During the board meeting, The Varsity was asked not to live tweet or photograph the events over concerns of online harassment of board members.

The chair of the meeting, Hildah Otieno, emphasized that this ban was not about media protocol but about protecting board members from intimidation.  

The Varsity tweeted once thereafter to post the text of the media accreditation policy motion. Upon discovery of the live tweet from the meeting, Otieno asked the reporter to remove the tweet, which The Varsity did not.

The SCSU currently has a Media Communications Policy, which outlines the media’s access to public meetings and spaces provided by the union. However, there is no policy regarding live tweeting under their bylaws and governing documents.

This incident comes shortly after two Varsity reporters were also barred from taking photos and live tweeting at a University of Toronto Graduate Students’ Union meeting held on December 3. The reporters were subsequently asked to leave the meeting after continuing to live tweet at the direction of their editors.

The Varsity has reached out to the SCSU for comment.

Two ‘newspapers’ have a chat

U of Tears™, a boundless education, and self-deprecating humour: The Boundary covers it all

Two ‘newspapers’ have a chat

Founded in 2017, The Boundary is Victoria University’s humour newspaper. The Varsity sat down with the paper’s Editor-in-Chief Ted Fraser and Head Content Editor Kyle Brickman, while Finance Executive Daniel Aykler lounged nearby.

The Varsity: How did The Boundary come into existence?

The Boundary: The Boundary is our head staff writer Jack Mageau’s brainchild. He came up with the concept, and then after mistakenly naming it The Farcity — which we thought was a hilarious name — we changed it to The Boundary. It’s a play on ‘boundless.’ We toe the line; we are that ‘boundary.’

Any school that earns the nickname U of Tears needs a humour outlet, because otherwise it’s just depression and Con Hall and cold winters, and there’s nothing really to express yourself [with] in terms of opinions or just human emotion. I think we share a very similar sense of humour with the meme page and our main goal is to almost formalize that type of humour through The Boundary.

[Mageau’s] concept was just an outlet [to] see if we can reach people. The spirit of the University of Toronto population is almost self-deprecating — and I don’t want to say self-hating, but definitely aware of the reality that [the] University of Toronto is not a fun school in the traditional sense. I think it’s really deeply ingrained into the psyche of University of Toronto students that we don’t have fun, and we’ve worked really hard, and we get screwed on tests, and that no one — no one — likes their life.

It’s great because U of T is sort of the opposite of every other university, right? Because frats are lame, no one goes to football games, studying is king, and it just provides constant fuel for headlines. Like, they don’t have to drop into your lap per se, but they’re going to drop more than they would [at] a prototypical college-based school.

TV: Why should people read The Boundary?

TB: Our mission is to amuse rather than to inform, and we don’t take ourselves too seriously. We acknowledge our own irrelevance and we thrive off of self-deprecation.

TV: Your content is predominantly published online. How often do you release content? Are you going to release a paper copy?

TB: We aim to release four or five articles a week, but through our brainstorming process, we always have one or two articles that we know are really good that we want to release at a certain time.

Perhaps [we’ll have] a semesterly bound paper publication that we will try our best to put on some newsstands or throw in some study rooms at Robarts.

TV: Where are your current contributors and contributions coming from?

TB: The majority of the contributions are coming out of a very core group of people, three of us in this room, then three or four more. And that’s just a product of us being in our infancy. We had a soft launch, as we were calling it. But really, we were just kind of fooling around with the idea to see if it would even work or [if people] would be interested in [it], including ourselves. I think we were figuring out if the contributors would be interested and I guess it turns out that other people are too, to a certain extent. We’re always looking for new contributors.

TV: Why should people want to write for you?

TB: The articles that are being written are 200 words. It’s half a page really and it’s funnier that way. We don’t want long editorials. Our goal is to provide very short content because, again, students are busy. Like, even as the writers, we’re busy.

TV: You’re both in your third year. What’s the plan? Are you going to pass on the torch to keep The Boundary around after you graduate?

TB: We’d love to pick up some contributors from second or first year and have them continue this because I think, yeah, it’d be a nightmare if this was the end. We’re the architects of our own fate. We can definitely figure this out and see if we can get some more people. We’re trying to increase our Facebook presence, which is crucial, and I think there’s also a thirst for this humour across Ontario. The Beaverton and The Onion hit up certain demographics, but I think we cater to a neglected demographic, which is why we’ve kind of sprung up.

TV: Can you explain a little about the neglected demographic?

TB: The Beaverton caters to young professionals and sort of cerebral university students who get the jokes. The Onion is more like the everyman’s satire and, I think, not specific to university in general. We’re specific, I think, so there’s more people like our current consumers out there. Also, a good thing to note is that we’re not nearly on the level of The Onion, so we couldn’t just do Onion content, satirizing everyday life, because we will not get the traction with our current audiences.

TV: Do you have any sources of funding, for Facebook ads, for example?

TB: Initially our bravest member, Kevin Yin, submitted his credit card, but [he] will be compensated. We just kind of went out on a limb and sort of fundraised bankroll ourselves, and it was minimal costs. We’ve now got funding from the VUSAC [Victoria University Students Administrative Council] and our budget is going to be ratified, hopefully soon.

TV: Are you considered a club or a publication?

TB: Technically, I think we’re considered a club. I’m actually in the process of doing the CCR [Co-Curricular Record] phase right now, but I think we would offer it in the same space as maybe the UC Review or something like that — a local, regional, or… a college-based club — although the content is not really catered to college at all. I’d say we kind of referenced it in passing.

TV: How can people contribute?

TB: We have an email, it’s boundarynews@gmail.com. Some people have submitted pitches, but I’d rather honestly meet a potential candidate in person. It’s not necessarily [a screening], but more so just [to] talk to them and see what they are interested in — does this person share a sense of humour with us? Do they have an understanding of what we’re going for?

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

You can follow The Boundary on Facebook or visit their website.

Canadian Association of Journalists criticizes U of T over handling of student media request

U of T rejected a media request from UBC's student paper on August 20

Canadian Association of Journalists criticizes U of T over handling of student media request

The Canadian Association of Journalists (CAJ) has released a statement criticizing U of T after the university’s media relations office refused to answer a media request from The Ubyssey — the University of British Columbia’s student paper — on the grounds that its staff were unable to accommodate student media outside of U of T.

“Due to the high volume of requests we receive we are unable to assist with requests with student media other than our own,” read the email from U of T to The Ubyssey’s Coordinating Editor, Samantha McCabe.

After receiving U of T’s response, McCabe tweeted, “Hey, @UofT — just a reminder that all student media is media, and has the capacity to hold you accountable!”

In response, the CAJ, which is an organization representing over 600 journalists across the country, released a statement in support of student journalists.

“The University of Toronto and other post-secondary institutions must recognize that student journalists are journalists,” the statement read. “If the university requires more staff to fulfill the basic mandate of its media relations department, the correct way to address that is to hire additional staff, not ignore questions.”

Evan Balgord, Vice-President of the CAJ, called the move “unacceptable.”

“It’s the role of student newspapers to cover their schools and often it’s student media that break stories holding these institutions accountable,” said Balgord. “It’s concerning that the University of Toronto is ignoring requests coming from journalists enrolled at other schools.”

In an interview with The Varsity, U of T Media Relations Interim Director Elizabeth Church said, “We’ve been listening to the debate and we’re considering how we can revise our practice to address some of the issues that are being raised.”

She added that her office has been trying to expand their services in recent years “to respond to our campus media the same way we do to other members of the media.” This includes arranging interviews with senior staff for The Varsity’s multiple requests per week, as well as for all other U of T campus media.

“I just want to stress that we think it’s important to give priority to our student media and to make sure that they have a chance to talk to senior leaders and staff about issues,” said Church.

When contacted by The Varsity, McCabe said that she was working on a story on what Canadian universities and postsecondary institutions are doing in terms of sexual violence prevention and education.

“I think their response takes a media request regarding a very serious subject matter and oversimplifies it into ’merely’ a student journalist’s request,” wrote McCabe.

“While I recognize that I’m from an entirely different university and that I don’t pay tuition to U of T, as a public-facing institution they need to be accountable to both their own students (which, I would say, would have made up part of the audience of my story) as well as to Canadian students in general, especially on a subject as importance as sexual violence,” she continued.

McCabe sent the initial email on August 16 and received U of T’s response on August 20, denying her request. She replied a day later, stressing “the importance of their comment, given the topic and that I was speaking to other universities,” but U of T has so far upheld its decision.

U of T lists four staffers in their central media relations office, and 22 more communications officials in other academic divisions.

— With files from Josie Kao

There’s no such thing as unbiased reporting

Relying on elusive standards of journalistic ‘objectivity’ is misleading, and it is in our best interest to adopt more attainable ideals

There’s no such thing as unbiased reporting

A study conducted by prominent American journalists Walter Lippmann and Charles Merz in 1920 revealed some inconvenient truths about The New York Times’ coverage of the then-recently concluded Russian Revolution: one of the most prominent news organizations in the western world had effectively bungled their coverage of a major historical event. Lippmann and Merz found that the Times’ stories on the revolution were rarely based in fact, but rather shaped by the “hopes of the men who composed the news organization.” Influenced by the outcomes they were banking on, the reporters’ writing lacked the factual accuracy or balanced perspective necessary to deliver an informed report.

Essentially, Lippmann and Merz decried the Times’ coverage as biased. And so, the authors of the study, and presumably much of the public who read it, lost trust in the so-called ‘biased’ tendencies of major media outlets. By way of solution, Lippmann argued that journalism should embrace more of a “scientific spirit” — believing that ultimate fairness, or ‘objectivity,’ could be achieved in journalism so long as the journalists made the study of evidence of verification to be the cornerstone of their work. Thus ensued the era of supposedly ‘neutral’ journalism, when well-trusted news anchors like Walter Cronkite and Chet Huntley would deliver stories seemingly without bias and seemingly without lack of context.

The notion of bias in news writing has since become one of colloquial discussion, and it is now one of the most common criticisms of the media. Most often, the label is imparted to news that readers believe is lacking relevant context, or to media outlets whose political views the reader disagrees with. At its most extreme, it is plastered across outraged comment sections and blog posts on the deep web, rooted in a conspiratorial belief that news organizations have pre-determined political agendas and feed purposely slanted reports to the masses.

Such polarization within the news world has resulted in publications whose self-imposed purpose is to provide contrast to what they see as an irreparably biased media landscape. Publications like Breitbart dedicate copious coverage to “Big Journalism,” aimed at debunking the “spin and narratives from the Democrat-media complex,” while outlets like The Intercept position themselves to be highly critical of the methods of mainstream channels like CNN. Even at the university level, publications like The Toronto Beacon claim to have been founded “as a reaction to the current state of journalism,” making specific reference to The Varsity’s coverage of a campus rally in 2016, among other incidents. None of these publications can be equivocated, but they do illustrate the extent to which people are frustrated with mainstream media coverage.

At the same time, it is counterproductive to leave blanket accusations of bias at that — for eliminating all bias from reporting is an impossible task. Reports are created by authors and shaped by editors whose perspectives and personal experiences are inherently injected into the final product. Even when reporting from the scene of the story, journalists make a series of judgment calls based on what they consider to be newsworthy. These decisions may alter information in the story depending on who is tasked with telling it.

In this vein, it should be acknowledged that the notion of ‘objectivity’ underlying the journalistic profession was developed and continues to operate within a context that privileges certain perspectives. It is no coincidence that Lippmann, Merz, Cronkite, and Huntley were all white men, a demographic that continues to hold a steadfast grip on the North American media profession, despite the substantial progress being pursued in this area.

Paradoxically, being ‘unbiased,’ ‘objective,’ or ‘neutral’ are themselves ideals laden with normative content, inherently dependent on the standards journalists use to determine the importance of information and to communicate what they believe is the truth. A bigger problem is that the normative nature of bias is effectively masked by widely accepted, seemingly neutral codes of ethics and best practices that have permeated the journalism industry. Figures like Cronkite were not delivering an unbiased account of the news, but rather an account shaped by the collective decisions of the CBS news team. In the codes of ethics of countless publications — The Globe and MailThe New York Times, and, yes, The Varsity — objectivity and impartiality are portrayed to be the ideal standard of a news report, despite that standard being ultimately unachievable.

The assumption that journalists need to annihilate all bias from their reporting imparts on them an insurmountable undertaking. This is certainly not intended to diminish the critical role journalism plays in our society; information-gathering and truth-telling are undoubtedly in the public interest. But pursuing best practices should entail a reconsideration of the language we use to describe the ideal state of the media, and in turn, shift our understanding of journalism away from amorphous or unattainable standards.

One solution that has been offered, including by our former Editor-in-Chief last year, is to substitute ‘unbiased’ coverage with ‘balanced’ coverage. The idea of balance, in the journalistic context, is based on the deceptively simple notion that all figures and institutions relevant to a story be given a fair chance to play a part in telling it. This also entails all pieces of information being put in factual perspective, meaning that truths and mistruths should never be given equal footing. Sometimes this is straightforward; in most cases, it isn’t.

There are also certainly things we can do to address the biases that underlie all journalistic work. The importance of the journalistic process demands such efforts, guided not by an impossible lack of normative ideals, but ultimately by better ones. More importantly, we can make the process by which we determine those ideals public, and we can encourage readers to subject them to thorough scrutiny.

The Varsity’s Code of Journalistic Ethics reads, “Fairness is a balanced and impartial presentation of all the relevant facts in a news report, and of all substantial opinions in a matter of controversy. Fairness demands that journalists place inaccurate or misleading public statements in factual perspective.” As opposed to ‘objectivity,’ the goal thereby becomes to strive for balance, which is arguably more concrete.

The procedures that underlie the operations of The Varsity and many other publications reflect that ideal. These include ensuring all figures implicated in a story are given the chance to comment, offering disclosures about potential conflicts of interest, and making source materials available upon request. At a fundamental level, it also includes pulling back the curtain on how the news is made. The Varsity has endeavoured to do this by hosting a Reddit AMA earlier this year, by opening our office to the public, and by writing editorials like this one.

When publications fall short of achieving their objectives, public editors step in. The role of Sophie Borwein’s column in The Varsity, for instance, is not only to critique the publication and respond to reader complaints, but also to offer a perspective that we cannot, in acknowledgment that the journalists who write the news are intrinsically tied to its making.

We can also look to other outlets for guidance. Publications like The Intercept will publish the documentation that an article is based on alongside the original stories. Meanwhile, the Times uses The Reader Center to justify its journalistic choices to its audiences, a tool that has come in particularly useful following the controversy surrounding its profile on a Nazi sympathizer from Ohio. These methods, and others like them, arguably reflect the idea that a newspaper should be in direct, democratic dialogue with its readership.

Finally, recalling concerns about whitewashed, male-dominated newsrooms, promoting a diverse range of perspectives is integral to the pursuit of fair and balanced reporting. Striving for diversity also means being sensitive to the responsibility that journalists have to those persecuted, marginalized, and disaffected members of our society — to offer them a voice and to probe and critique the institutions that hold power against them. This responsibility is not characterized by neutrality, either; it is principled and normative, as it should be.

In the 1920s, Lippmann and Merz rightfully exposed the blatant political slant underlying the methods of a major journalistic institution. In today’s highly fraught media climate, with accusations of bias and fake news flying left and right, our community finds itself at a similar pivotal moment, and the way forward remains unclear. Our shift in perspective toward media bias, however, should also prompt a shift in how readers respond to it, for that response will be integral in shaping what the profession eventually becomes.

The Varsity’s editorial board is elected by the masthead at the beginning of each semester. For more information about the editorial policy, email editorial@thevarsity.ca.

Fact-checking Facebook

How getting our news from social media changes the nature of the information we receive

Fact-checking Facebook

On October 31, The Independent reported that more than 126 million Americans may have been exposed to Facebook posts “disseminated by Russian-linked agents seeking to influence the 2016 presidential election.” This astounding figure, representing more than half of eligible American voters, is indicative not only of the serious effects that foreign agents may have had in the 2016 American election, but also of a larger trend in the way that people access news.

Accessing news from social media instead of from more traditional providers like television and newspapers is becoming increasingly popular. According to Pew research from August, two-thirds of Americans report that they get at least some of their news directly from social media sites, with 20 per cent confessing that they do so “often.”

The source from which news is accessed has an important effect on the nature of the information received. And although it is easy enough to mandate that social media platforms regulate themselves by blocking or labeling misinformation, this may prove to be far easier said than done.

While we should be concerned that news providers — in this case, Facebook and Twitter especially — are motivated by profit instead of by truth, the problem is far more nuanced than that. Media sources have long been businesses first and foremost. The first news program to be broadcast in colour was Camel News Caravan, brought to you by Camel cigarettes. Walter Cronkite, long known as “the most trusted man in America,” uttered slogans for Winston Tobacco between segments.

It is not the profit motive that makes getting news from social media so dangerous; rather, it is what profit motivates these platforms to be. Whereas concern for the bottom line prompts traditional media to be fair and balanced, the effects it has on social media are far more nefarious.

Before the ubiquity of social media, a lack of options made the average consumer occasionally frustrated but generally informed — and on the same page as his neighbour who, regardless of political affiliation, ultimately got the same set of facts.

This is because, perhaps paradoxically, the business side of traditional news outlets actually incentivizes balance and parity of points of view. As long as the information cannot be tailored to suit the preferences and biases of each individual viewer, fostering a sense of fairness and impartiality is simply the best way to maximize viewership. The left-leaning viewer and the right-leaning viewer are forced, due to simple dearth of options, to get their news from the same source. For this reason, to avoid losing half of the market, traditional news outlets have had to be balanced enough to keep people of all political stripes tuning in.

Today, the algorithms that determine our news feeds are not hindered by lack of options. It turns out that people prefer confirmation to truth, agreeability to variation, and corroboration of previously held views over new, challenging evidence. Within Facebook’s incessantly shifting network are innumerable echo chambers, enclosed by a barrier that is impenetrable to dissenting views: profit. Now that the news provider can tailor the information it provides to the exact preferences of the viewer, the profit motive — which seeks only to ensure eyeballs on advertisements — no longer values impartiality, but rather the continued confirmation and exacerbation of those preferences.

As long as we prefer to return to sources that confirm our views, it is difficult to foresee how getting news from social media could be anything but divisive. Many have called for the platforms themselves to clearly distinguish disreputable information on their sites; Facebook has begun to do so by designing a new banner that will alert viewers to posts that are disputed by the requisite number of sources.

However, these measures can only address a small part of the larger problem. We need to begin by distinguishing two issues: the proliferation of false informatio and the entirely different issue of inaccessibility of dissenting views.

The first issue seems, at least at first glance, far easier to fix — social media should clearly indicate when false information is being presented. However, this solution is not as simple as it seems. For starters, it’s one thing to remove an unfounded news piece from the site, and it’s quite another to censure the contributions of actual individual users.

Using social media as news sources blurs the line between news providers and news consumers. This is troubling because while there is a long tradition of holding news providers accountable if their content is manifestly false, the rest of us are not usually held to the same standard. But social media is built around the contributions of individual users, and there is a big difference between fact-checking content submitted by third-party sources or corporations and censoring the views of regular people.

This applies just as much to opinion as it does to news. For example, I might write a status about how the Star Wars prequels are better than the originals. As obviously false as most would think this claim is, is it Facebook’s responsibility to correct me?

Once social media sites begin marking the submissions of individuals as plainly false or fallacious, it seems inevitable that there will be considerable backlash, even if the demarcation is correct. Also, if the last 18 months have taught us anything, it’s that people will doubt the credibility of news outlets long before they will doubt their own views. If Facebook positions itself as one of those authorities, it will lose eyeballs and then profits, which will seriously test its resolve.

It is not clear that the problems presented by making social media our primary news source can be solved by intervention from those platforms. This is especially true due to the inaccessibility of challenges to our views. Indeed, the only real solution may be cognizance. It is only awareness of our vulnerability to bias that will make us less vulnerable to misinformation; it is only consciousness of our inherent hostility toward dissent that we might become more accepting of it. If we can learn to question our own biases, to pause for a moment before hitting the ‘share’ button to consider our own motivations, then perhaps we can begin to undo the damage that has been done. One thing, however, is abundantly clear: whatever we’re doing now is not working.

Zach Rosen is a second-year student at Trinity College studying History and Philosophy. He is The Varsity’s Current Affairs Columnist.

On the importance of The Rebel Media

The right-wing media outlet resembles activist movements across the political spectrum — and serves an important purpose in doing so

On the importance of The Rebel Media

Yell as loudly as you can and perhaps it’ll make a difference — this model of resistance has proven popular with the political left, as is evident looking at activist movements over the past 20 years. And from civil rights to environmental legislation, this model of resistance has proven effective. The political right in Canada does not have this same reputation — rather, the political right has been perceived to be more concerned with their own money than with grassroots activism.

The Rebel Media, a fiercely conservative online platform based out of Toronto, breaks this mould. It is loud, reader-funded, and blunt about its beliefs — a perfect model of leftist grassroots activism. It covers issues of what’s considered to be political correctness on university campuses, provides a platform for pro-life perspectives, and comments on perceived failures of the current Liberal government. It is marked by a desire to reject the status quo of what it sees as an overwhelmingly left-wing media landscape.

The Rebel’s provocative and often offensive content has led some to question its purpose, and ultimately whether it deserves to exist in the first place — podcasts by Canadaland and Safe Space have expressed these sentiments. Key arguments against The Rebel being published are that it is more activism than journalism, and that the opinions it publishes are bigoted. 

While I am not here to dispute either of those points, we ought to consider the following: if The Rebel were a leftist organization, would there be a problem? The Rebel shares similarities to many other media organizations that hold oppositional political sentiments, and it serves an important purpose in Canadian media and society.

The Rebel has never touted itself as a news organization pursuing fair, ‘objective’ reporting. In fact, the description on their website states, “We don’t just report the news, we participate in it.” This is not a foreign model to Canadian media; outlets such as The Dominion and This Magazine describe themselves as representatives of the people who support them and as agitators with radical roots, respectively.

Moreover, both This and The Dominion were created to fight a perceived status quo. They created outlets that explored the issues they cared about, issues that were ineffectively covered by traditional media outlets. 

Similar to activism of the left, The Rebel has brought together the voices of those on the fringe. In the ’70s, feminism brought together groups of people who were oppressed by a traditional patriarchal society. However, bringing together those individuals revealed a plethora of intersectionalities that inevitably created inner conflict. Feminism was not a big tent movement, although it provided solidarity among many people. While aspects such as reproductive rights and equal pay became topics of solidarity among all factions, movements such as womanism emerged due to feminism’s inability to represent all women.

Similarly, after the closure of the Sun News Network, The Rebel began as an outlet for individuals who believed there were not enough conservative voices in media. The organization promised that it would incorporate the ideas of its audience into its daily content and avoid the pitfalls of traditional media. This rhetoric is similar to movements on the left: a cry for inclusion, whatever the cost, and a desire to be seen, regardless of the response.

Political philosopher John Stuart Mill once argued that in a free society, all should have a right to speak. Permitting all members of society to voice their opinions freely prevents the harm that would result from what Mill referred to as the “tyranny of the majority” — a situation in which, due to a lack of dissidence and lack of protection for the few who dissent, the majority of citizens can actively oppress those who do not subscribe to their beliefs. ‘Bad’ opinions will have the chance to be refuted so long as the right to speak is secured for everyone.

A cry like this attracts all types of characters. The feminist movement was largely funded by middle-class white women, ostracizing minorities and lower classes. While the intentions of a movement may be virtuous, those who fund these movements may sway its goals. Whether this is the case for The Rebel can be disputed, but what is clear is that its movement has exposed a pocket of Canada that is not habitually represented.

Regardless of its current state, one thing is certain about The Rebel: the organization has stayed true to its desire to be the voice for the community of readers and writers to which it caters. In the spirit of John Stuart Mill, I would encourage those who disagree with the content presented by The Rebel — or any other media outlet — to take the time to respond to it. Actively voicing your dissent places you within the conversation and allows you to participate in the marketplace of ideas that Mill advocated for. To say The Rebel should not exist, however, is to say that not all people should have a voice — and that is antithetical to the values of a liberal democracy.


Gabrielle Warren is an incoming third-year student at Trinity College studying Political Science.

An “appropriation prize” is an insult to Indigenous writers

What happened with Write magazine should prompt media outlets to prioritize Indigenous peoples in their coverage

An “appropriation prize” is an insult to Indigenous writers

The spring issue of Write, a literary magazine published by the Writer’s Union of Canada, was supposed to celebrate works by Indigenous writers. However, as is often the case when Indigenous writing is published, a media firestorm quickly redirected the public’s attention elsewhere.

Editor-in-Chief Hal Niedzviecki came under fire for his editorial in the magazine, where he wrote that he does not believe in cultural appropriation and that “anyone, anywhere, should be encouraged to imagine other peoples, other cultures, other identities.” Consequently, Indigenous writers featured in the magazine expressed their deep disappointment that such a piece was featured in an issue intended to celebrate their communities’ works. Niedzviecki has since apologized and resigned from his post, calling his lack of foresight “tone-deaf.”

The negative attention Niedzviecki received then prompted some of the biggest names in Canada to jump to his defence. Prominent editors and writers at the largest media organizations in Canada eagerly voiced their support for the hypothetical “appropriation prize” that Niedzviecki suggested be awarded to authors who write about peoples with whom they have nothing in common. A pot of money jokingly pledged to the cause even emerged on Twitter.

The Niedzviecki case and the subsequent media support in his favour are telling reminders that there is sore disregard for Indigenous perspectives in Canadian media, and that the industry must make more room for Indigenous peoples to tell their own stories.

Niedzviecki apparently intended to argue that Indigenous peoples, continually suffering the effects of cultural genocide, are rediscovering their voice by writing narratives outside their own cultures. Statements in his piece seem to align with this position: Niedzviecki mentions the importance of finding the “right measures of respect, learning, and true telling,” and that “if we steal stories or phone in a bunch of stereotypes, readers will know.”

Yet opening a magazine issue devoted to Indigenous writing with the line “I don’t believe in cultural appropriation” penned by its Editor-in-Chief hardly approaches the bounds of appropriate editorial decision-making.

Clarification is in order, because Niedzviecki seems to imply that protecting writers from cultural appropriation presents an obstacle to creativity within the Canadian literary community by limiting the scope of what one can write about. However, appropriation is not ‘writing what you don’t know’ — it’s taking the customs of another culture and denying their origins, profiting off them as if they were your own.

We also cannot ignore the topicality with which cultural appropriation is frequently approached in popular discussion; however nearsighted Niedzviecki was, framing his piece in terms of appropriation was unmistakably meant to stir the pot.

Niedzviecki ought to have known better. The fact that he did not is unsurprising.

In a piece for Global News, Anishinaabe artist Aylan Couchie writes of “a persistent notion that continuing to exploit Indigenous people is an inherent right.” Gimmicky replicas of traditional artefacts and tasteless Halloween costumes demonstrate the world continuing to distort Indigenous culture for profit and entertainment. And this instance is hardly the first time Indigenous perspectives have taken a back seat to provocative writing by powerful people.

[pullquote-default]An Indigenous Elder once told Anishinaabe journalist Duncan McCue that the only way an Indigenous person would be featured on the news is if they were “one of the 4Ds: drumming, dancing, drunk, or dead.”[/pullquote-default]

The Canadian media has time and time again been complicit in this process. An Indigenous Elder once told Anishinaabe journalist Duncan McCue that the only way an Indigenous person would be featured on the news is if they were “one of the 4Ds: drumming, dancing, drunk, or dead.” When Indigenous people do make headlines, writers often play on stereotypes about criminality and alcoholism, never mind that scholars have repeatedly confirmed the connection between social issues within Indigenous communities and Canada’s colonial past.

The role of culture in this process cannot be understated. For First Nations people, preserving culture can be virtually analogous with preserving Indigenous knowledge, identity, and self-determination. Social and cultural dislocation has in fact been cited as one of the causes of higher rates of self-harm and suicide among Indigenous peoples compared to the non-Indigenous population.

The media, in turn, has a vital role to play in shaping public opinion and choosing what stories are told. Wilful blindness to the potential consequences of what is published, in a context where too few Canadians know enough about our country’s colonial history, can be toxic to Indigenous communities.

Editorials like Niedzviecki’s are important to take seriously because of their potential reach. A Journalists for Human Rights (JHR) project on Ontarian media coverage of Indigenous issues revealed that editorials and opinion columns made up a substantial portion of the heightened negative coverage that occurred in response to ‘Idle No More’ protests. McCue believes that senior opinion writers in city newsrooms are influential in setting the tone when Indigenous communities are covered.

It consequently becomes difficult to stomach the idea of an “appropriation prize,” to turn a blind eye to white and well-paid media executives placing bids on what is essentially a continuation of Canada’s colonial legacy. Calling out the Canadian media on its lack of diversity is hardly an overreaction, yet few in the industry seem willing to confront the problem head-on.

Only two extensive surveys on diversity in Canadian newspapers have ever been conducted. The most recent one, in 2006, found that minorities were vastly underrepresented in newsrooms at all levels of circulation. Smaller-scale studies have since confirmed these findings, yet news outlets have not budged. In 2016, CANADALAND attempted to collect data about diversity in Canadian newspapers and was met with radio silence; with only three papers willing to contribute, the prospect of publishing systematic data was deemed a lost cause.

[pullquote-features]It is Indigenous writers who are in optimal positions to tell deeply authentic and compassionate stories about marginalization and resistance.[/pullquote-features]

Indigenous narratives in particular continue to be sorely underrepresented in Canadian media. JHR surveyed over two million stories across 171 Canadian publications from 2010–2013, finding that Indigenous stories made up a cumulative average of only 0.28 per cent.

Part of the reason for this, it appears, is that many journalists do not attempt to seek out Indigenous sources to contribute to their stories. Others, not understanding Indigenous issues, avoid the topic entirely. In turn, media executives in charge of daily news agendas hesitate to cover Indigenous issues due to a reluctance to raise the “same old stories.” That would be well and good if enough were being done to try and change the status quo — which hasn’t happened since the first European ship landed on Canadian soil.

The Canadian Journalism Project’s J-Source has also investigated this issue. Of the 125 columnists they surveyed in 2016, only 5 regional columnists were Indigenous, and there were no Indigenous columnists at the national level.  This is compared to 50 regional and 14 national columnists who identified under no equity criteria — none of whom were Indigenous people, visible minorities, women, LGBTQ persons, or persons with a disability.

Supporting Indigenous writing — as Write tried and Niedzviecki dismally failed to do — is one step toward progress. Indigenous communities have much to contribute to the Canadian media landscape, and given their lived experiences, it is Indigenous writers who are in optimal positions to tell deeply authentic and compassionate stories about marginalization and resistance.

This is not to say that white columnists can’t write about colonialism, and certainly not that Indigenous writers should be pigeonholed into doing so. But considering the scarcity of Indigenous perspectives in the mainstream media and the pressing need to cover communities’ stories in a timely and respectful manner, newspapers should try harder to make room.

Fortunately, some have got the right idea. JHR has launched a mentorship program for Indigenous journalists in Northern Ontario, as well as a scholarship and internship program to help interested Indigenous students break into the field. In 2015, the Canadian Association of Journalists awarded the Don McGillivray Award, a prestigious journalistic honour, to McCue and the rest of his team at the CBC for their coverage of missing and murdered Indigenous women.

Simultaneously, progress on media diversity is painfully slow, and the appropriation prize debacle is a notable setback. Respecting Indigenous narratives, publishing Indigenous authors, and collaborating with Indigenous organizations should be top priorities, both in the broader media community and locally at The VarsityMedia outlets must make concrete commitments if they seriously intend to confront this issue. Unfortunately, it is not clear that all of them do.