Words matter

– By Shirley Roberts –

There is no shortage of news, dominated by world events, that is covered in our daily newspapers and through social media. News items compete for our attention through short articles by journalists who often have to keep up with the daily news cycle and looming deadlines. In the city of Toronto, events like the pandemic compounded by issues of food insecurity, homelessness and racism have a particular impact on the residents who live there. Many stories have been told about the impact of these issues on various Toronto communities and neighbourhoods, but not always through the lens of the people most affected by them. 

The Local, a Toronto digital magazine, launched in 2019, seeks to do things differently.  In an interview with Editor-in-Chief, Tai Huynh, we discussed the role journalism plays in the way stories are reported in this magazine. According to Huynh, The Local focuses on issues of the day and how they affect Toronto communities in particular. It aims to “illuminate complex issues in communities and to come up with strategies to address them.”

Immigrant women’s health issues and innovative responses to them were featured in an issue about St. James Town. Published in more of a magazine style on a quarterly cycle, he describes it as “content rich and not on a traditional weekly news cycle which allows for more in-depth coverage of important issues affecting communities.”

Telling stories in this way is important because it has the potential to influence public policy design. “People who have the power to influence change typically make decisions in a boardroom and often don’t know how these decisions affect people’s lives on the ground,” says Huynh. 

An example of this was a story in The Local, described by the editor, about the City of Toronto’s decision – early in the pandemic – to cordon off park benches in Allan Gardens so people could not use them. This affected homeless people in particular, who were fined about $200 – a sum clearly too high and discriminatory toward people who could least afford to pay it and had few options for places to go. “It represented a terrible way to address a public health issue.” Within a few days of the story being published, the policy was changed.

Responding to a question about whose stories are heard through this vehicle of story-telling, Huynh referred to a recent issue of The Local that highlighted Indigenous issues. “Handing over the keys” to local Indigenous journalists, photographers, artists and story-tellers, “The Indigenous Toronto Issue” reflected a range of stories presented through the voices of the largest Indigenous population in Ontario. He also noted that huge swaths of populations have been left out of the pandemic vaccination drive such as Black, Indigenous, People of Colour (BIPOC) communities. But at The Local, “The stories are being told from their vantage point.”

Reflecting the diversity of Toronto is a key piece to The Local’s publishing success.  Huynh is proud of the fact that 55% of their contributors reflect BIPOC communities which is largely unheard of in the industry. It is about whose story is being told and from what perspective. Recently, in 2021 The Local won four Digital Publishing Awards, including the grand prize: General Excellence in Digital Publishing (Small Publications). Congratulations! 

The St. James Town Press also seeks to highlight the impact of the news of the day on St. James Town residents by telling their stories and publishing their poems and art work. Readers who enjoy our newsletter may also enjoy checking out The Local at https://thelocal.to/ .

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