Part of a radio and television piece I produced about Certified Solar, a company who took thousands of dollars from investors only for them to receive no solar equipment or refunds whatsoever.
Almost weekly the New York Times real estate section publishes a feature called The Hunt, written by Joyce Cohen. The column features New Yorkers across the city on the quest for the perfect apartment. A 20-year-old student from New Jersey, a nice Jewish family looking for a house in Brooklyn and a young couple looking for a space to grow their family. Everyone is looking for a great place at the right price and often having to move farther and farther to do it. These people are what have become known as gentrifiers, upper middle class people moving into formerly poor or middle class neighborhoods and causing a rise in property values as a result.
Nowhere to be found in these real estate profiles, however, are the stories of the people who are being forced out of these neighborhoods to make room for these new residents. Nowhere does the real estate section discus the eleven per cent drop in subsidized rental units below 96th street in Manhattan, or the some 600,000 homeless people across New York City.
Even when the New York Times does cover gentrification, they cover it from the perspective of a white, wealthy couple that moved into their house in 2000 and wants a 4 million dollar settlement to move out of their apartment.
As Fleras explains, the mainstream media including the New York times are out to make a profit, so of course they are not going to focus on the hunger epidemic happening in the Bronx, or the fact that Harlem, once the epicenter of black culture in New York is no longer a majority black neighborhood.
Most of the New York Times readership is these upper middle class gentrifiers, so naturally they will portray the upper class favorably and ignore the (usually) poorer victims of gentrification. But one could hope that they could at least cover a story or two about the fact that Brooklyn, once home to millions of middle class New Yorkers, is now the most unaffordable place to buy a home in the country, and the people that might affect, other than wealthy white couples who’ve had to make the dreaded move to New Jersey.
Suggested Follow Up:
Yes, user generated content (UGC) is faster and often allows us to get access to events or places we wouldn’t have otherwise, as Ira Basen proves with his example of the 2009 Iranian elections. No government can ban all of their citizens from documenting history, and this is one of the great benefits of citizen journalism and social media.
However, when all citizens can use their phones or cameras and are considered “journalists” it also allows for greater incidents of fabrication and provides a forum for rapid-fire dissemination of those fabrications.
As Basen notes in his article, “In the end, the discipline of verification is what separates journalism from entertainment, propaganda, fiction, or art.” Websites like NowPublic require no verification whatsoever and are linked to social media, therefore not only can a contributor find a fabricated story or video and post it to their website, it can then be spread through social media like wildfire without anyone realizing the story is a fake until it is too late.
The dangers of UGC and the lack of verification at sites like NowPubic are especially apparent when we are talking about photo and video journalism. Not only is fabrication easy, in times of crisis people are willing to believe almost anything.
Quite literally anyone with a camera phone and decent Photoshop skills can create fabricated images and disseminate them across social media as “news”.
Take for example the case of a New Jersey resident who claimed he had seen sharks on his street after Hurrican Sandy. This citizen journalist posted images of two sharks on his street in Brigantine Beach, New Jersey, which quickly spread through social media and then were reported on by a station in South Carolina. These images were later found to be a complete hoax, but not quickly enough to stop them from being both widely spread and reported on.
Without having what Basen calls a “gatekeeper” to verify the veracity of images and video provided by citizen journalists, how are we to know what is real and what is not before it is too late. This particular hoax was not damaging or dangerous in any real way but with new forgeries being created everyday, it is only a matter of time.These forgeries pose not just a risk to the general public, but legal ramifications for the news outlets that use them.
To quote Basen, “professional journalists, disinterested and unattached to any political or commercial sponsor—are necessary to keep the misleaders at bay.” User generated content is useful but only when vetted and verified first by professional journalists.
Suggested Follow Up:
Two deadly terror attacks occurred in January of 2015, but only one garnered a worldwide reaction, a solidarity march attended by prominent world leaders and a a social media campaign carried out by celebrities and civilians alike.
I am talking, of course about the Charlie Hebdo attacks in Paris, but also of about the Boko Haram attack on the Nigerian city of Baga, where over two thousand civilians were killed and entire town wiped out.
The attacks in Paris, which left 17 dead, garnered much more immediate attention and coverage in the news than those in Baga. The Charlie Hebdo and Hyper Cacher attacks were covered on the front page of the New York Times several days in a row, while articles about Baga made it to pages A6 and A8. Even African news media and governments stayed silent on the issue. Gabonese president Ali Bongo Ondimba, made his way to Paris for the solidarity march but did not make any comment on the atrocities happening on his own continent.
The disparity of coverage could be blamed on how difficult it is to cover, with safety being the main concern, or perhaps the fact that the Charlie Hebdo killings were an attack on journalism. But I believe the lack of coverage can be blamed on the devaluation and stereotyping of the “other”.
This problem is so systemic, to borrow from Fleras, that even African journalists were not covering these attacks. The stereotype of the “dark continent” filled with danger and disease has become so pervasive that even an attack that wipes out an entire town warrants little news coverage. According to Fleras, “Deliberate or not, an exclusive focus on negativity induces the systemically (inadvertent) biasing effect of portraying minorities along one-dimensional lines.” In this case, the focus on reporting only negative news out of Africa, and particularly Nigeria over the last few years has caused a catastrophic mass killing to be seen as par for the course and therefore undeserving of front-page coverage. The same can be made for the way the media has ignored the conflict in the Central African Republic. Black Africans attacking other black Africans is not nearly as easy a narrative for the audience as innocent Parisians being attacked by a violent Muslim other.
The same can be said of reporting on black-on-black crime on in North America. Because the negative stereotype of the “dangerous black ghetto” has become so pervasive, stories like that of Chicago’s sky rocketing gun violence barely make the news, while the killing of white-spring breakers by black gunmen is front and centre.
This kind of bias in reporting is dangerous both at home and abroad, as noted in the “Memo to Reporters Covering the Protests in Ferguson Notes” by Color of Change “Research shows there are dire consequences when stereotypical images of Black people rule the day; less attention from doctors, harsher sentences from judges, and abusive treatment by police, just to name a few.” We as journalists have to make sure that all stories are reported whether or not they fit into a convenient or popular narrative about race. Violence both at home and abroad deserves reporting on regardless of the victim's colour or nationality.
Suggested Follow Up :
The Invisible Gate: The Problem with Bloor West Village
It’s a sunny Saturday afternoon on Bloor West and the sidewalks are packed. A gaggle of young mothers roll by in their LuLuLemons, sipping coffee and pushing strollers so technologically advanced and costly that one might think their babies were heading to space rather than the park. Dads, clad in their alumni sweatshirts and Saturday jeans, crowd into the Fresh and Wild organic market to buy wild halibut for $34.99 per pound. Across the street, a line is forming at Max’s Gourmet Deli to get, among other specialties, artisanal mustard imported from France and gluten-free baguettes. The scene more closely resembles a wealthy Connecticut suburb than Toronto, a city that prides itself on diversity.
Like many of Toronto’s other most affluent and desirable neighbourhoods, however, rising real estate prices and the disappearance of affordable housing have turned Bloor West Village into a bastion for the white, wealthy and educated. Instead of walls or security cameras, money determines who gets in and who is shut out.
“Money is the gatekeeper, “says Dianne Bradley, past president of the Bloor West Village Residents association. “It is going to be a barrier for a diverse group living here.”
According to City of Toronto statistics, visible minorities make-up less than 19 per cent of the ward in which Bloor West Village is located while the city average is around 49 per cent.
David Hulchanski, a professor of urban and community studies at the University of Toronto says Bloor West lacks diversity because it is just too expensive for most people.
“The area has gone from being middle income to being high income and that has changed what kind of people live there.”
Hulchanski’s research on income inequality concludes that during the last 30 years Toronto has been segregated into three distinct cities based on income. The first city, which includes Bloor West Village, is made up of high-income residents located in the city centre and along subway lines. The second encompasses the shrinking group of middle-income residents and the third consists of low-income residents located in the northeastern and northwestern suburbs.
Hulchanski’s study, entitled The Three Cities Within Toronto, also shows that along with being divided socioeconomically, the city is becoming increasingly racially polarized. He reports that 82 per cent of City #1 is white, while 66 per cent of City #3 is visible minorities.
“There are no other black kids in my daughter’s class,” says Ashley Addison, a local resident whose daughter attends Annette Street Public School. “There is one other kid in the school who’s mixed so I guess together they make one black kid?”
"I am sure more diverse people would want to live there if they could, but most can't afford it."
Addison is correct; most people can’t afford to live in Bloor West Village. According to the Toronto Real Estate Board the average price for a single-family detached home is more than $872,000 and the average cost of a condo unit in the area is $566,500
It is not just racialized minorities who are priced out of the nieghoburhood. “Most Ukrainians cannot afford to live here now. I wanted to buy a house here but could not afford it,” says Halyna Dvulit, a recent immigrant who works at Buduchnist Credit Union, a Ukrainian Bank in BWV. Historically Bloor West Village was a haven for Ukrainian immigrants. Now, Dvulit says “they will come here to shop but not to live.”
Pamela Robinson, the graduate program director of Ryerson University’s urban and regional planning department, vehemently disagrees with suggesting Bloor West is a gated community.
“It’s not even close to that. It may not be the most ethno-culturally diverse neighborhood but I think a gated community implies that there are people who have bought into a lifestyle that comes at the expense of other people.”
Hulchanski, however, says “money buys choice and with less and less options in the heart of Toronto, there is just not a lot of room for those who need affordable housing.”