On a cool Thursday evening in September, approximately one hundred journalists, academics and students gather at a Buddhist-temple-turned-arts-centre in the Annex, one of Toronto’s oldest neighbourhoods. Under the centre’s wood-panelled A-frame roof, the audience leans in as if mesmerized by a campfire tale, a feeling heightened by the cozy, cabin-like atmosphere of the space. Round white lanterns hang from the ceiling like miniature moons suspended in the air, the room filled with their warm glow.
On the stage where an altar once stood, journalist Adam Chen perches under soft purple lights, gesturing in front of a microphone. He weaves a story about the Chinese Exclusion Act and his great-uncle’s impressive career as a community leader, lawyer and actor. A guitarist plays gentle riffs as Chen flicks through a slideshow with black-and-white photos of his family, images of historical documents and a still from a Cyndi Lauper music video that features Chen’s great-uncle. At one point, Chen draws gasps of laughter from the audience with an impression of Marvel actor Simu Liu. When he reaches the end of his speech, having discussed the evolution of Asian representation in North American media and the power of authentic stories, the crowd bursts into applause.
“I’ve never heard anyone tell a story like Adam,” journalist Kaitlyn Smith mentions before the show. Having watched a similar production featuring Chen, Smith says it’s Chen’s narrative style that keeps them coming back; the performance format feels like storytelling reborn, able to reach audience members in a direct and powerful way that writing can’t replicate.
This performance marked the debut of the Living Magazine, an immersive experience organized by Chen that brings stories to life through music, imagery and narration. Chen describes it as Toronto’s first performance magazine show, an experiment in the growing field of live journalism: an innovative storytelling format in which journalists merge personal essays and fact-based reporting in a theatre-like setting. Live journalism fosters a uniquely intimate connection between reporters, their stories and the audience. The amorphous ideas of “the media” and “the public” are made concrete here, as journalists and audience members can see each other and share space; their reactions to each other’s ideas are refreshingly tangible and empathetic.
Chen—who also works as a development and communications coordinator at a non-profit theatre company—started hosting live journalism shows in 2019 and has since been working toward creating a live journalism ecosystem in Toronto. He believes the format can provide an opportunity for newsrooms to rebuild relationships with the communities they serve, offering a human connection with readers at a time when trust in the media is declining across the world.
According to the 2023 Digital News Report from the University of Oxford’s Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism, only 40 percent of Canadians trust most news, most of the time, a drop of 15 percentage points since 2016. Faith in the media has plummeted amid Trumpian rhetoric about “fake news” and the spread of online misinformation and disinformation during the Covid-19 pandemic. Meanwhile, the places where journalism is produced are numbering fewer and fewer. Since 2008, 511 local news operations have shut down across Canada, according to the October 2023 Local News Map data report. Mergers, closures and mass layoffs have created “news deserts” where people have little to no access to credible information about where they live, eroding opportunities for journalists to engage with their communities and leaving residents without access to accurate reporting. To make matters worse, earlier this year the Canadian government passed Bill C-18, also known as the Online News Act, which called upon tech companies to compensate Canadian news publishers for using their content. In response, Meta and Google announced that they would censor news for Canadians on their platforms, giving media outlets even fewer opportunities to cultivate interest in their work and connect with the public.
This problem of trust and access is worsened by the lack of diversity in Canadian media, with audiences rarely getting the opportunity to see their own lives represented. Marginalized journalists are equally unable to report on their own communities: the Canadian Association of Journalists found in 2023 that three-quarters of Canadian newsrooms employed no visible minorities or Indigenous people in the top three leadership roles, and that about 76 percent of Canadian journalists are white. According to not-for-profit media organization MediaSmarts, this lack of diversity in the newsroom leads to “a distorted view of racialized communities in the news” and “can also result in those communities losing trust in journalism.”
Chen hopes to address this loss of faith by bringing journalists on stage to close the distance with audiences and share stories that are relevant to their lives and communities. “I think that is the first step to actually building a trusting relationship, or rehabilitating a relationship,” he says. The inaugural issue of the Living Magazine, itself part of the second International Live Journalism Festival, featured six storytellers situating their own histories in current events, exploring topics such as the experiences of climate refugees and the shared heritage of Indigenous and Japanese communities in Vancouver. At the show, arts reporter Aparita Bhandari dedicated her performance to unpacking the challenges of convincing editors that stories about her culture are worth telling. Throughout the presentation, Chen, playing a jaded editor, repeatedly wandered onto the stage and interrupted the narrative to complain that the story wasn’t landing with viewers. But every time, Bhandari would face the crowd and continue on. She wasn’t speaking to Chen, she emphasized—she was addressing the audience.
In these reporter-driven live journalism spaces, journalists aren’t beholden to entrenched newsroom hierarchies or to the stifling whiteness of mainstream media. They’re free to foster closer ties to their own communities and to invite audiences to see themselves and their stories accurately represented; they can laugh at inside jokes together and bond over shared experiences.
Live journalism’s growing popularity across the world reveals the public’s appetite for a means of engaging with journalism that isn’t possible with traditional news outlets. The practice isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution to the news industry’s problems—there still isn’t a clear path to sustainable funding, and the format might not be able to engage communities that are set in their distrust of the media. But what’s clear is that live journalism is another tool that can help newsrooms approach their work differently. It offers a crucial space for reporters to rebuild trust and reconnect with the communities they serve.
Historically, there’s been a deliberate separation of journalists and the public throughout the news production process. Reporters begin by entering communities and asking people to speak about their experiences in deeply vulnerable ways. The journalists take these stories and craft a narrative, deciding which quotes to use and what information to leave out. These findings are then communicated in a top-down way, with journalists providing information and the audience receiving it. Throughout this process, the reporter purports to be a detached observer who can ascertain and report the “objective truth.” But in reality, the editorial decisions made in newsrooms are never neutral; they reflect reporters’ and editors’ biases about whose experiences and expertise are trustworthy. Journalist Pacinthe Mattar points to this “crisis of credibility in Canadian media” in a 2020 essay in the Walrus, detailing how the perspectives of people of colour and Black and Indigenous people face undue skepticism. “How can the media be trusted to report on what Black and other racialized people are facing when it doesn’t even believe them?” she asks.
The aim of many live journalism projects is to break these conventions and find a means of journalistic communication that treats the audience as a meaningful stakeholder. Sonya Fatah, an assistant professor at Toronto Metropolitan University’s (TMU) School of Journalism, is interested in the ways that the format can challenge arbitrary norms around the journalist-audience relationship by disrupting reporters’ power over the narrative and inviting community members to be part of the conversation. She’s the founder and creative director of stitched!, a live journalism research initiative based out of the university that uses a model in which theatre venues take on the role of community centres: places where residents can discuss local problems and brainstorm alternatives. Free from the conventions of traditional mass media formats such as newspapers, radio and television, journalists can closely collaborate with artistic sectors and better engage the communities who are the centre of a story.
The stitched! lab recently presented Harmed in Hamilton, a show examining racism and gender-based harassment in schools in Hamilton, Ontario. The project was prompted by the fatal stabbing of a fourteen-year-old outside his Hamilton high school in 2019, and the community-wide dialogue about bullying that it sparked. For months, the team researched the failure of anti-bullying policies at Hamilton’s school board, sifting through reports and interviewing local students, teachers and family members. The group of TMU students, professors, journalists and musicians then presented the findings to Hamilton residents in the form of a theatre production, sharing student testimonies, explaining policy language and combining live jazz, dance, audio elements and audience discussion to tell Hamilton students’ stories. Since finishing the production, the team has been working on developing workshops to share live journalism strategies so that residents can use them in their own projects.
Harmed in Hamilton featured a “community gatherer,” a role Fatah created. The community gatherer acts as an arbiter between the performers and the viewers, directing questions to the audience and sparking conversations about the topics explored during the show. In Harmed in Hamilton, the community gatherer came on stage between the performers’ scripted narrative segments and got the audience to respond to different prompts. Viewers would nod their heads, raise their hands, share their opinions and guess at statistics on topics such as voting and mental health training for police constables.
At the end of the show, the community gatherer may help facilitate a discussion with the audience, soliciting feedback and allowing viewers to discuss their personal experiences. These conversations are often intense and challenging. At one stitched! show in October 2022, an audience member pointed to gaps in the team’s reporting, noting the lack of attention paid to socioeconomic class; another expressed discomfort toward the show being held in a theatre across from a police station. After one of the Harmed in Hamilton performances, a visibly upset school staff member approached the community gatherer, shaking as she explained that she hadn’t felt safe to identify herself and express her opinions in the group discussion. In her opinion, the production was heavily biased and had failed to consider the perspective of school management staff. (The team plans to conduct a follow-up interview with her to discuss ways to make the space more conducive to dialogue.)
The stitched! team recognizes that Harmed in Hamilton adopted a specific perspective—and in doing so, it ran the risk of creating an echo chamber or excluding other views. But through the town hall model and the work of the community gatherer, many audience members were able to share difficult exchanges and engage in accountability conversations, which traditional journalistic formats struggle to facilitate. The school staff member's willingness to approach the community gatherer with her concerns perhaps speaks to the relationship building that took place during the show. Fatah says that after each performance ended, people often approached the community gatherer first. “The community gatherer was someone they felt they could trust,” she says. That journalist had done the work of identifying themselves, sharing information with the community and seeking audience members’ input throughout the show.
stitched!’s impacts on individual and community levels are palpable. The first Harmed in Hamilton show was held last October, deliberately planned to take place two days before Ontario’s school board elections. During the show, performers discussed the role of the school board and its involvement—or lack thereof—in the stories of harm shared on stage. By the show’s end, a parent came up to the stitched! team and said that they were going to vote in municipal elections for the first time because they now understood the school board’s influence. Fatah says that anecdote reflects live journalism’s ability to foster deeper community involvement. “That engagement can lead to a lot of positive acts, versus giving people really hard, sad stories, and then them not knowing what to do with this,” she says.
Traditional forms of journalism can fuel powerlessness and pessimism that push people to disconnect from the news. The Reuters Institute’s 2023 Digital News Report found that 36 percent of respondents try to avoid the news, with many pointing to the impact of negative stories on their mental health. This “psychological strain of living through and absorbing dismal news” has birthed terms such as “doomscrolling” and “headline stress,” notes a 2022 article in the American Psychological Association’s magazine. But by equipping residents with information and building spaces for dialogue, live journalism can transform news anxiety into civic participation and empower audiences to adopt active roles in fighting for change within their communities.
In a field where newsrooms dictate the way stories are framed, live journalism projects like stitched! subvert the reporter-source power imbalance and bring interviewees into the reporting process as important collaborators. Rather than treating people as resources from which stories can be stolen and exploited, these community-focused approaches challenge the industry’s norms and prioritize reciprocity, investing months in relationship building on the ground before stories are performed on stage. The shows themselves often bring reporters face-to-face with the people they’ve spoken to. In this way, live journalism becomes a practice in accountability and empathy, encouraging reporters to reflect upon their duty to the public and approach their work in more caring ways.
Over the past two decades, the buzzword that has dominated discussions about newsroom strategy and growth is “audience engagement.” The term’s exact definition is slippery. For some, it’s measured by the number of comments or shares a story receives on social media, while for others, it relates to broader questions like who stories are written for and which communities see themselves represented in media coverage. Recently, conversations about engagement have shifted toward formatting websites to improve search engine optimization (SEO) rankings and cater to social media algorithms in a relentless pursuit of clicks, pageviews and user time spent on a site. This metrics-driven approach has accompanied the introduction of generative AI—with which news stories have been “written” by large language models like ChatGPT—into newsrooms as a time-saving measure, sparking concerns about a boom in clickbait and misinformation. Meanwhile, audience engagement efforts that focus on listening to readers can expose reporters to greater harm, with women journalists bearing the brunt of social media vitriol and online harassment. It’s exhausting for reporters to see their work reduced to numbers and hateful comments, just as it’s tiresome for audiences to face a flood of SEO-driven content that focuses on climbing up search results, rather than maintaining accuracy or quality.
One live journalism outfit that has successfully boosted audience engagement in novel ways is the Finnish Helsinki-based group Musta laatikko, or Black Box. As one of the largest live journalism series in the world, Black Box has staged twenty unique productions for tens of thousands of audience members across Finland over the past eight years, covering topics such as AI-composed music and anti-European Union sentiment. Black Box is run by Helsingin Sanomat (HS), a leading Nordic newspaper, and was created by journalist Riikka Haikarainen, a former staff writer, producer and science editor at HS. Haikarainen first experienced live journalism as a master’s student studying at the University of Southern California in 2015, at an event held by trailblazing live journalism organization Pop-Up Magazine. At the show, a documentary filmmaker discussed legendary jazz musician Louis Armstrong’s personal tapes, playing an audio clip and asking audience members to listen to Armstrong’s breathing. “I close my eyes … The tape quietly hisses,” recalls Haikarainen in a blog post about that moment. “Then I hear how the ice cubes clink in the drinking glass, the armchair creaks and Louis Armstrong sighs quietly.”
Captivated by the immersive power of live journalism and its ability to connect with viewers, Haikarainen knew she wanted to bring the format to Finland. “I thought, ‘Maybe it’s a one-off experiment,’” she says in an interview. Upon returning to Helsinki, she gathered a few colleagues and approached the director of the Finnish National Theatre with her pitch. He loved the team’s idea of bringing reporters on stage to tell previously unpublished stories, and agreed to lend them a three-hundred-seat theatre to try the concept out. The shows were a hit, and over the past eight years, Black Box’s performances have drawn approximately 55,000 audience members from across the country.
Black Box is named after the dark, enclosed theatre venues in which its shows are performed, as well as the device stored on aircrafts to record flight data. In the same way a black box helps experts piece together the cause of a plane crash, the show aims to help audiences make sense of the world. The two-hour performances feature eight speakers, all of whom are journalists from different sections of the HS newsroom. Their stories are as diverse as those in the main paper, covering global politics, lifestyle and science. Each journalist takes to the stage with a scripted speech, often accompanied by images, videos and animations, though there have also been more unconventional segments. One speech on genetic engineering featured an aerial acrobatic performance, while another saw audience members singing along to a popular Finnish karaoke song. Haikarainen says live journalism’s playfulness and open format yields lessons for journalism more broadly. Performers are encouraged to think big, to try new ways of storytelling and consider elements such as props and music. That whimsicality encourages reporters to break out of the typical formula of creating stories with text, still photos and videos. “It’s like a laboratory of new ways of storytelling,” Haikarainen says.
Black Box audiences tune into journalism in a way that would otherwise be difficult with the relentless distractions of the digital age. A 2019 viewer study conducted at a Black Box show found that many audience members felt they were often “prisoners of their preferences.” The news they were fed online typically mirrored content they’d already been seeing and reading, reinforcing existing attitudes and trapping them in echo chambers. Black Box’s range of subject matter means that audiences are forced to engage with fresh content and to listen to perspectives they might disagree with. “We have been able to prove that it is possible to fight against the algorithms, and to produce journalism that can make you interested in topics that you didn’t know you were interested in,” says Haikarainen.
Journalists seem to benefit from the format as well. Earlier this year, Haikarainen and a group of reporters and researchers published a sixty-page live journalism handbook based on Black Box’s experiences. In the guide, HS reporters articulate the ways in which Black Box has restored their belief in journalism, stating that the positive engagement they received from audiences reminded them of the importance and reach of their work, and countered the flood of critical comments they’d been accustomed to expecting from social media. The shows also presented a very different way of thinking about the audience. Journalists were no longer writing for faceless masses or fixating on metrics, but rather seeing instantaneous responses from viewers. “I’ve often wondered if anyone reads my stuff,” says one staff writer in the report. “Suddenly, the crowd is going crazy about my topic, which I thought no one was interested in.” After each production wraps, HS repurposes each speech into a feature story, allowing the journalists’ work to live on outside of the production.
Despite Black Box’s success, reaching an audience beyond the typical readership for a daily paper can be difficult. The 2019 study found that the average age among attendees at one show was almost fifty years old. Haikarainen chalks the older demographic up to HS’ status as a traditional print media outlet, which often draw more mature readerships. The show is also presented in theatre spaces that are more familiar to older generations. The demographic stagnancy of audiences is a challenge that many live journalism groups face, as viewers tend to consist of the same people: often those who already consume or have an interest in news, or in some cases, those who work in the industry themselves.
Some of this stagnancy is by design. Many live journalism companies work to keep their fans attending events by releasing tickets for the next show shortly after a performance ends, or by sending newsletters and posting updates to keep their supporters in the loop. But that fixity in audience composition means that many communities may never hear of or attend a show, or develop an interest in the practice to begin with. Younger people in particular tend to consume less news, instead relying on social media for their information, according to the Reuters Institute’s 2023 Digital News Report. For what it’s worth, Haikarainen says the team has been working to engage youth, with promising early results. A few years ago, Black Box hosted a free show for fifteen- and sixteen-year-olds featuring the same speeches that were performed for general audiences. Speakers discussed climate change myths, Finnish hair loss and the experience of going to school in Siberia. In a survey of the teenage participants, 68 percent of the 350 respondents said they’d prefer to consume news as a live journalism speech, rather than a print or digital article. Many said they enjoyed the humour and conversational nature of live journalism, noting that the format felt more “real.” Others expressed surprise toward the craftsmanship and effort of the journalistic process; some didn’t know that reporters had to go out and speak with people, having assumed that journalists simply write and publish articles from behind their computer screens.
Haikarainen believes that live journalism can play a crucial role in building media literacy and encouraging young people to seek out high-quality journalism. Earlier this year, a children’s version of Black Box—targeting kids ages eight through eleven—was formed. At the first show, reporters talked about the future of video game culture and the life of a twelve-year-old competitive go-kart driver. The feedback was very positive and a second production has been planned for early 2024. “What is really important for these youth is to get an idea of what journalism is all about,” Haikarainen says. “If we can communicate that to the younger audiences, I believe it will have an effect in the future.”
By taking viewers behind the scenes and into the journey of reporting, Black Box can offer audiences an intimate glimpse at the inner workings of journalism with all of its quirks and challenges. The shows also package fact-based information in a way that mirrors the personal delivery that many youth love about TikToks, Instagram Reels and YouTube Shorts. These short-form video formats have become increasingly popular ways for young people to access news: according to the 2023 Digital News Report, 79 percent of eighteen- to twenty-four-year-olds had watched an online news video on a social media platform in the past week. By focusing on delivering information to young people, Black Box’s shows could foster habits that cement younger viewers’ trust and interest in the news. And like other experimental mediums such as the newsletter platform Substack, live journalism could be a way to reach new audiences that traditional mass media formats have long struggled to engage.
However innovative live journalism may be as a means of connecting reporters and audiences, finding funding remains a challenge. News outlets across the world have struggled to cope as tech giants swipe advertising revenue and threaten journalism’s traditional business models. In response to this financial crisis, major Canadian media groups such as Torstar and Postmedia have sold, merged and shut down hundreds of community papers over the past few years, causing mass layoffs and further entrenching regional news monopolies. Live journalism isn’t immune to these problems. Pop-Up Magazine—which was formed in 2009 amid the decline of news outlets during the Great Recession—folded unexpectedly at the start of this year, citing a lack of funds and the devastating impacts of the Covid-19 pandemic.
One option for procuring funding is to pursue grants and sponsorships, as has been the approach of Back Pocket Media, a live journalism initiative that hosts storytelling events across the US. What began as a radio show in San Francisco in 2016 evolved into a company that has worked with more than thirty news outlets to put on in-person events. The group has found, however, that relying solely on traditional media outlets to support their work isn’t really sustainable. “Newsrooms [aren’t] the best customers,” says co-founder McArdle Hankin. “They don’t have the money and they don’t have the time.” Back Pocket has managed to obtain multiple grants and a sponsorship deal from Meta, which owns Facebook and Instagram, to support their work, and the team hopes to acquire more corporate sponsors in the future.
Introducing corporate support, however, poses ethical issues for journalism organizations. Media publications already receive criticism for presenting sponsored content in the same way as news. A 2019 paper from Western University researchers compared native ads (advertisements intended to look like articles) to reported pieces from four Canadian online newspapers, and found that similarities in content and context made advertisements “practically undistinguishable from editorials in the same paper.” Similar issues emerge with podcasts, where host-read ads are often interpreted as being more trustworthy and authentic. This blurring of lines between editorial and paid content can confuse audiences and leave people feeling deceived, tainting their view of news outlets’ credibility. While securing corporate sponsorships may help finance journalism, it might come at the cost of editorial integrity.
For live journalism organizations, landing sponsorships may mean convincing newsrooms that their events are worthy investments. “As an industry or medium, we just need to get better at telling the story of the impact of our events,” says Hankin. It’s a hurdle that Adam Chen, the Toronto-based live journalism advocate, is also familiar with. Getting investors to take a leap of faith and fund live journalism can be difficult. “With a magazine, you can mail it to someone and they can read it, and they get what it’s about,” he says. “For us, we literally need to get those people in a room with us to watch it.” Chen’s live journalism projects have largely relied on funding from TMU and other organizations, and he says there needs to be more institutional support in order for live journalism to take off.
Canada has consistently come up short in protecting media plurality and investing in journalism. The Global Media and Internet Concentration Project, an Ottawa-based media research initiative, details in its 1984–2021 report that the national Competition Bureau has utterly failed to stop a decades-long pattern of media organizations consolidating, exchanging and selling local papers in Canada, resulting in press groups controlling certain regions. While the federal government’s Local Journalism Initiative has funded news outlets’ production of community journalism over the past four years, the project is due to end in 2024. And Bill C-18, which many had hoped would be a major boon to the industry, has instead further hindered Canadians’ access to news. Live journalism offers another opportunity to put money into journalism, but in all likelihood, Canada won’t take it.
From Fatah’s perspective, the lack of entrepreneurial investment in journalism speaks to Canada’s wait-and-see approach to innovation. She says there’s a cultural inclination toward watching ventures take off elsewhere before investing domestically. “Canada is a very ‘safe’ place,” says Fatah. “Even though it could be a high-end innovative market because it’s a small marketplace, it actually is a very conservative place because people are reluctant to try new things.” Live journalism’s experimental nature can be daunting for hard news outlets, who may be less open to subverting traditional understandings of their profession. “The conventional newsroom has very fixed ideas about what journalism is,” says Fatah.
While live journalism may not answer all of the industry’s problems, it can offer an opportunity for journalists and audiences to build different relationships with reporting as a medium—perhaps even displacing mistrust and news overload with a little fun and frivolity. In 2016, the first Reporter Slam was held in a Berlin club. Created by German media trainer Jochen Markett, the format takes a different approach to live journalism: one that’s unscripted, competitive and playful. With a pace and supportive atmosphere that are reminiscient of poetry slams, each show features several journalists giving ten-minute free-form speeches about reporting mishaps and unexpected journeys. At one show, a performer detailed his experimental project of pretending to be a social media influencer for a Vice article, while another recounted the highs and lows of football news. The talks are interspersed with musical interludes from the show band. At the end, the audience votes for their favourite speaker by applause or by an online vote. The winner walks away as the night’s Slampion, with a unique trophy to match; one, awarded at a slam about fake news, was a goofy-looking duck meant to represent the German word Zeitungsente, which denotes a news hoax but literally translates to “newspaper duck.”
There are few guidelines for each Reporter Slam speech, leaving the format open to individual interpretation, though journalists are encouraged to use presentations with photos, videos, GIFs and audio. Some performers bring props: in a story about visiting a new Berlin airport prior to its grand opening, a journalist donned a neon safety vest and strutted around the stage with her chic airport-provided drawstring bag. “Almost everything is allowed,” says Markett. “The more creative you are, the better.” Whether it’s a journalist losing their train of thought or a slideshow freezing, the show’s hiccups help build a stronger bond between those on and off stage.
Reporter Slam grew out of Markett’s brief stand-up career, as a combination of his passions for journalism and entertainment. He came up with the format after attending a science slam, a popular event format developed in Germany that uses a similar structure to make research topics accessible to the general public. A 2017 survey from Pew Research Center found that 36 percent of German adults trust the media little or not at all, and only 20 percent trust the media a lot. Over the past decade or so, German journalists have also grappled with the return of the term Lügenpresse, or “lying press,” a Nazi-era word that has re-emerged amid the rise of “fake news” accusations. Reporter Slam’s rough-around-the-edges take on live journalism tackles this trust gap by emphasizing journalists’ humanity. With smaller audiences of about forty to fifty people in several German cities—and annual finals in Berlin with about six hundred—the show focuses on building the journalist-audience relationship in informal environments. The humorous late-night talk show style of most Reporter Slam performances helps people connect with the stories shared on stage, allowing them to engage with reporting in a low-barrier way.
For Markett, live journalism is something that can be viable in every country. “People everywhere in the world love good stories,” he says. Though securing funding can be difficult, having a strong team and an innovative idea can take you far. “We are still at the beginning,” says Markett. “We still cannot make our living with it, but now we see the vision.”
Canadian journalism has long been facing a crisis. Beleaguered by declining ad revenue, chronic underfunding and a lack of sustainable funding models, the death of local news has accelerated across the country. Many news outlets face closures and layoffs, while others are swallowed whole by media conglomerates, increasing the concentration of media ownership in the hands of a few companies. Amid growing distrust in the news, Bill C-18 has made it even harder for Canadians to access accurate and relevant information. Meanwhile, younger reporters struggle to break into the industry, facing a grim landscape of unpaid internships, precarious work and a growing reliance on temporary staff.
Live journalism suggests that there are ways to tell stories and treat journalists and audiences that are more compassionate, accessible and meaningful. The format could shift the way newsrooms and the public see one another, while ushering in more thoughtful approaches to reporting and news consumption. In a sea of cynicism about the industry, the growth of live journalism groups across the world might chart a course forward.
Back in Toronto, Chen isn’t hoping for the Living Magazine to become the largest fish in the live journalism pond. “The biggest goal for me is to create as much competition as possible,” he says. “We just want a community to be growing and flourishing.” As Canadians demand new ways to engage with journalism, investing in the format could be a way to restore trust in the press and draw new audiences. Chen says live journalism’s potential is irresistible. “Without a doubt, this is something that once people experience, they’re going to want to grow and share, and want to do themselves.” ⁂
Tobin Ng is a journalist and fact checker based in Ottawa. They are Maisonneuve’s associate editor and have written for Xtra, Broadview and This, among others.