Local news researcher wins university award



Investigations of the role of local news in cities, including studies that explore how coverage can stereotype neighbourhoods and introduce new immigrants to their adopted communities, have earned School of Journalism professor April Lindgren a university research award.

Lindgren was among the recipients of a faculty award for scholarly, research and creative activity (SRC) honoured at a luncheon on Feb. 14.

“I’m thrilled, particularly on behalf of all the great students who worked on these projects with me. I also want to say a big thank you to my colleagues, who were always read to help when I ran into difficulties,” said Lindgren, who received the award for her work on the Local News Project, an ongoing examination of the role of local news in shaping perceptions of cities.

Ivor Shapiro, chair of the School of Journalism, said the award was well deserved. “April’s research has been an inspiration to me and many colleagues” he said in an e-mail. “She came to the academy a short five years directly from a brilliant career as a political reporter and, with astounding rapidness, developed a major and well-funded program of inquiry in a field of considerable social importance.”

Since launching the project in 2008, Lindgren has examined the Toronto Star’s coverage of disadvantaged neighbourhoods; investigated portrayals of the Greater Toronto Area in the Chinese-language newspaper, Ming Pao; and explored how other racial and ethnic groups are portrayed in ethnocultural newspapers. Her work is funded by CERIS – The Ontario Metropolis Centre, and the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council.

The Local News Research Project, in addition to analyzing local news content, makes innovative use of geographic information system (GIS) technology and spatial analysis that allows Lindgren to map patterns of local news coverage.

“I’m interested in how we can use geography as a starting point for investigating journalism,” she says, noting that her working involves collecting data on geographic references in local coverage, including the addresses for sources cited in news stories and photographs.

“When we combine the geographic references from each story and photograph, we can make what’s called a dot-density map that will show us the patterns of news coverage overall,” Lindgren said. The Star maps, for instance, show a concentration of dots in the downtown Toronto area, and increasingly sparse coverage further from the centre.

Lindgren said that in addition to revealing patterns of news coverage, the maps can be combined with other data such as story topics to explore the types of news coverage accorded different areas of the Greater Toronto Area.

“People in Scarborough were complaining about the news coverage they got, saying that Scarborough was always painted as a place of murder and mayhem,” Lindgren said. “We can take all the news coverage of Scarborough that appeared in the Toronto Star during our study period and we can say ‘Ok, well, actually what kinds of stories were written about Scarborough?’”

Lindgren’s investigation of news coverage of 13 disadvantaged areas in Toronto that have been officially designated priority communities for public investments found the neighbourhoods received relatively little news coverage and that the most common topic was crime.

She suggests that this perpetuates the negative stereotypes surrounding disadvantaged neighbourhoods in a way that can discourage residents of these areas from becoming involved in neighbourhood improvements.

“We’re hoping that in the future, the tool will be useful for community groups that want to understand a bit more about coverage of their neighbourhood or coverage of a certain issue,” she said.

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