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Media, ethics, and journalism. What works. What doesn't.

Jeffrey Dvorkin

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Inner City Journalism

The suburb is Scarborough and it is the most easterly part of the Greater Toronto Area. It has a high proportion of immigrants, minorities and working poor. Like a number of European cities, Toronto has consigned much of its immigrant population to the outer suburbs, while the center of Toronto - which used to house the waves of immigrants - is now filled with a more affluent and whiter population.

Ryerson University (where I teach journalism) will host a boot camp for kids from a Toronto suburb at the end of June. The kids who will be part of the program known as "Verse City" will come to downtown Toronto (where Ryerson is located) for four days and nights. Some - I'm told - have never been to central Toronto before. They will be given some of the rudiments of journalism, production, writing and interviewing. But these kids (aged 12 to 24) already have a considerable amount of media savvy under their belts. They've been involved through school and after-school programs with video, print, radio and especially online journalism.

They address the issues that concern them: violence, poverty, lack of opportunities and the ghettoization of Scarborough. At the same time, these people have tremendous pride in their community. Scarborough is also known as "Scarberia" to downtowners and the kids resent this snobbery.

I'll be speaking to the group about interviewing techniques, which is mostly about listening and listening carefully. Interesting enough, in this week's New Yorker magazine, there is a profile of CNN's Larry King. The NYer's Lauren Collins decided to interview King using his own approach which is mostly to never ask a question that doesn't begin with the word "WHY."

But will the kids from Scarborough find Ryerson's "professional" approach useful? Relevant? Or will we just ignore their own journalistic values in order to reproduce younger versions of ourselves? Is there a way to incorporate the best of what they have experienced with the most useful tools around?

Doug Mitchell, who used to lead training programs at NPR until the recent cutbacks cut him loose was very good at finding ways to help his kids blend the insider culture of NPR with the best of what would-be journalists can offer.

Time to apply the "Mitchell Method" at the Ryerson boot camp.

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