A well-functioning democracy relies on informed and engaged citizens — but if where they live and what they care about aren’t well covered by the media, how engaged can we expect people to be?
As the Greater Toronto Area (GTA) has grown rapidly, local media has not kept up. The current provincial election shows how crucial it is for communities outside the core to not only have access to quality information about how public policy impacts them, but also to reflect back to those in power what the issues that really matter to them are.
The loss of local news has real consequences. The Pew Research Centre has shown that civic engagement is linked to local news habits. Scientists have warned that communities without local news are at a higher risk of the spread of infectious disease. Good local coverage is also a tool to hold power to account. In the United States, research shows that municipal governments have become less efficient following the loss of local newspapers.
We at The Discourse had this research in the back of our minds the past few weeks as we researched communities in the GTA that are underserved by existing media. After an in-depth analysis, we’ve identified four communities: Little Portugal, Willowdale, Brampton and Scarborough. And, aligned with the American research, these growing and diverse communities experienced lower than average voter turnout in the 2014 provincial election.
So The Discourse wants to bring reporters in to help shine a light on both long-ignored and emerging issues. But before deciding what to report on, we’ll spend a month listening to people in these communities.
Why are we listening? We believe journalism should be a public service, which means we strive to serve real people. Not advertisers. Not interest groups. Not foreign investors. At The Discourse, we invite a broad community of Canadians to shape our reporting.
We want to know what issues impact people in the GTA every day — especially in communities the media usually ignores.
How we picked the communities
Identifying four communities in the GTA that are underserved by media was a difficult task. The city is home to Canada’s largest media market. It’s a hub for mainstream, alternative and multicultural media. But Toronto hasn’t been immune to the major cutbacks threatening the industry. And without enough journalists, we know local media has major blind spots.
Toronto is the most multicultural city in the world — it’s still a top destination in Canada for immigrants, over 50 per cent of its population was born outside of Canada and more than half of its residents are visible minorities. But in media organizations, one study found that, of the media leaders it looked at, only 4.8 per cent of board members and executives are visible minorities. Visible minorities are also underrepresented among “newspaper columnists and as hosts and experts on supper time broadcasts,” according to one 2010 study on diversity in leadership and media.
To select the underserved communities where we’ll spend our time, we mapped out all the GTA media we could find (with help and data from Ryerson’s Local News Research Project), including TV, radio, newspapers and online publications. We compared that data to population changes in GTA communities and regions. When we came up with a short list of communities that were growing fast and lacking local media coverage, we prioritized areas with a large population between the ages of 25 and 44.
The four communities we’ve chosen have populations that are diverse, young, growing and changing. And the amount of local, community media coverage has not kept pace. That’s where we come in.
Help shape The Discourse’s reporting in Toronto
If you live in Toronto or a surrounding area, we want to know: What’s a day in your life like? What do you love about your community? And how could a journalist help you understand or talk about issues in your neighbourhood and city?
Each week, we’ll be stationed in a different community — starting with Little Portugal, and then heading to Willowdale, Brampton and Scarborough.
Whether you live in one of these communities or any of the Toronto areas we haven’t mentioned, we’d love to hear from you. Fill in this survey or reach us at [email protected] to let us know what local stories you think we need to hear. And follow us on Facebook for updates from the field and information on our pop-up events.
Help us report from the GTA. Our ears are open.
The data collection and analysis to determine which communities were selected was completed by Julia-Simone Rutgers. This piece was edited by Lindsay Sample with fact-checking and copy editing by Jonathan von Ofenheim.
While you’re here…
In Canada, nearly 250 media outlets have closed in the past decade. The Discourse is stubbornly dedicated to building a new kind of journalism that serves people, not advertisers. Because Canada needs journalists to provide accurate and unbiased information about polarizing issues, to reflect Canadians’ diverse perspectives, and to hold power to account.
And we need your help. Become a member of The Discourse to contribute to journalism that’s having an impact. Pay what you can — it only takes a minute. Thank you.