Announcing the J-Source Newsperson of the Year Shortlist

When we asked for your picks for the J-Source Canadian Newsperson of the Year, you gave us a list of 28 of Canada’s best and brightest journalists. This list included innovators, agenda-setters and political shakers.

Now, a jury has assembled a shortlist of candidates for the 2012 J-Source Canadian Newsperson of the Year from the nominees you put forth.

They have narrowed the list down to just five finalists.

"The jury had an exceedingly difficult time whittling down the excellent list of nominees to a modest shortlist,” said Janice Neil, editor-in-chief of J-Source and a member of the jury. “We're pleased to present our final contenders who demonstrate innovation in story-telling, by using new and emerging technologies to research, report, present and disseminate stories on all media platforms."

The Newsperson of the Year award seeks to honour a Canadian who has demonstrated excellence and had a positive impact on the quality of journalism in their community or across the country, perhaps innovating the way news is gathered and told, inspiring journalists, educators, and the Canadian public. 

The shortlist for the 2012 J-Source Canadian Newsperson of the Year Award:

J-Source did a brief Q&A with each of the finalists about the award and their work over the last year. Click on each of their names above to read the Q&As, and to see the jury's comment on why each were named to the shortlist.

The winner of the 2012 J-Source Canadian Newsperson of the Year will be announced Feb. 28 at The Canadian Journalism Foundation's J-Talk in Toronto.

Jury members include:

  • Janice Neil, Associate Professor, School of Journalism, Ryerson University (Toronto, ON)
  • Nicole Blanchett Neheli, Coordinator/Professor Journalism Broadcast, Sheridan College (Oakville, ON).
  • Candis Callison, Assistant Professor, Graduate School of Journalism, University of British Columbia (Vancouver, BC)
  • Paul Benedetti, lecturer and Co-ordinator of the Graduate Journalism Program, Western University (London, ON)
  • Judith Dubois, journalism professor , Université du Québec à Montréal (Montreal, QC)

The long list of reader-submitted nominees can be found here.


Nahlah Ayed

Comment from the jury: “Nahlah Ayed embodies the best in contemporary Canadian journalism: on-the-ground interviews, exemplary storytelling, diversity of perspective, and multi-platform delivery. She doesn’t just tell you the story; she engages the viewer and promotes discourse.”

Who is Nahlah Ayed?

Nahlah Ayed, Foreign Correspondent based in London, currently on assignment in Cairo, CBC Television, Radio, Online

Length of time at current publication/organization: One decade.

Hometown: Winnipeg, MB

Favourite project/story worked on in 2012 and why:

The House Tahrir Built, because it was checking on one of my favourite stories of all time, the Egyptian revolution and the Arab spring, one year later, and because we had a chance to show our viewers the nuances and the variety of points of view in Egypt through the lives of people living in one building.

A project/story of someone else’s from 2012 that you wish you’d worked on and why: Radio-Canada's powerful expose of corruption in the Quebec construction industry.

Can you describe one or two specific things that you’ve done that you consider innovative?

– Involved in every medium of production in a Radio-Canada/CBC co-pro for an online interactive documentary called Exile Without End. Took stills, wrote blogs, did TV interviews, edited, etc.

– Produced a national documentary (22 minutes) working with a traditional television team, but also working with a stills photojournalist.

One reason to get excited about Canadian journalism in 2013:

The continued survival of foreign reporting, in a new form: digital-first pocket bureaus in Berlin, Hong Kong, and, Cairo, where I am currently.

General comments about having been shortlisted for the J-Source Canadian Newsperson of the Year Award:

I'm humbled into speechlessness. Must be some kind of mistake.


Jorge Barrera

Comment from the jury: “Jorge Barrera is being nominated for this award because of his timely, in-depth, and deeply contextualized reporting on Idle No More, using multiple media platforms.  While many newsrooms ignored the beginnings of this massive social movement amongst First Nations communities that has since enrolled many inside and outside Canada, Barrera and the APTN News team were first to report on INM. They have continuously provided excellent, immediate coverage and analysis, capturing the complexity of responses to and from this networked social movement.”

Who is Jorge Barrera?

Jorge Barrera, reporter, Aboriginal Peoples Television Network

Length of time at current publication/organization: I have been working at APTN since March 2010

Hometown: Was born in Caracas, Venezuela, grew up in Moncton, NB.

Favourite project/story worked on in 2012 and why:

I guess my favorite stories from 2012 came from Akwesasne. Akwesasne is a fascinating community, straddling the Canada-US border and the NY State and Ontario, Quebec borders. The St. Lawrence River cuts through their territory. Many Mohawks here do not recognize the international border and say that it is all their land. This situation spawns many incredible stories about what goes across the river and its many tendrils.

A project/story of someone else’s from 2012 that you wish you’d worked on and why (with links, if possible):

This investigative project, led by Paul Barnsely and Kathleen Martens into how lawyers handled residential school claims. The investigation began in 2011, but continued into 2012.

Can you describe one or two specific things that you’ve done that you consider innovative?

I think the way APTN used Facebook and Twitter to cover cross-country Idle No More protests revealed to us how valuable citizen journalists can be. With rallies and events in dozens of locations across the country, APTN could not cover each and every one. However, we put a call out on Twitter and Facebook for people to send us photos and updates of the events. So, throughout the day, we were able to turn APTN's Facebook page as as a gathering spot for information about rallies across the country that was powered by APTN's viewers, Facebook friends and Twitter followers. Many of the photos of events posted on APTN's Facebook page were shared hundreds of times and we had visitors numbering in the tens of thousands.

One reason to get excited about Canadian journalism in 2013:

I believe we are entering a special time in Canadian journalism. I think some of the stories we've seen in the past year are harbingers of what's to come.

General comments about having been shortlisted for the J-Source Canadian Newsperson of the Year Award:

It's quite the honour to find my name on a shortlist alongside such incredibly talented journalists. Thank you J-Source for all the work you do throughout the year  for the craft so many of us love so much.


Stephen Maher and Glen McGregor

Comment from the jury: “For their innovative approach to investigative news and reporting. Not only did they demonstrate that teamwork may be the new working model in journalism, but they leveraged their online and digital media expertise to break the "robo-call" story as well as using data mining, Twitter and crowd-sourcing in new and interesting ways.”

Who are Maher and McGregor?

Glen McGregor, national affairs reporters, Ottawa Citizen

Length of time at current publication/organization: 13 years.

Hometown: Ottawa (born and raised).

Favourite project/story worked on in 2012 and why:

The series of stories I co-wrote with Stephen Maher of Postmedia on the robocalls investigations. Steve and I have different approaches – he's more of a shoe-leather and sources guy; I'm documents and data — but we match up well. We started out trying to find out what happened in Guelph, Ont., last election and ended up stumbling over an active and ongoing Elections Canada investigation. Guelph mushroomed into a bigger story than we realized with fantastic shadowy characters like "Pierre Poutine," technology intrigue with burner cell phones and proxy servers that seemed straight out of The Wire, and, of course, important issues about the conduct of fair elections.   

A project/story of someone else’s from 2012 that you wish you’d worked on and why:

I can't name just one: The Star's Kevin Donovan's ongoing coverage of the ORNGE air ambulance story; CBC reporter Laura Payton's story on elections expenses filed by Labrador Conservative Peter Penashue; and a U.K. Telegraph story on the social activism by the wife of outgoing Bank of Canada Governor Mark Carney (the Ottawa media, myself included, blew that one) 

One reason to get excited about Canadian journalism in 2013:

We're still doing it. Newspapers are realizing that investigative journalism is a product they can and should offer readers, in print and online, instead of chasing clicks and page views with photo galleries of celebrities. The strong representation of enterprise and enterprising reporters on the shortlist for this award shows our industry is Not Dead Yet. 

General comments about having been shortlisted for the J-Source Canadian Newsperson of the Year Award:

I am keenly aware that, in a time of shrinking newsrooms, the latitude the Citizen gives me to chase stories off the daily agenda is a rare luxury.  These kinds of stories are always a gamble. One can spend weeks or months chasing a lead and come up empty-handed. On that point, I would like to apologize to Postmedia shareholders for that somewhat futile trip to Winnipeg last fall. At the Citizen, our Editor-in-chief Gerry Nott and Managing Editor Andrew Potter were tremendously supportive of the work Steve and I did chasing robocalls. Andrew and Christina Spencer from Postmedia were especially helpful in developing the stories on a daily basis.


Stephen Maher, national columnist and investigative journalist, Postmedia News

Length of time at current publication/organization: 18 months

Hometown: Truro, Nova Scotia

Favourite project/story worked on in 2012 and why:

Robocalls. Why? It had a significant impact on our political discourse, brought us closer to solving a mystery, and will ultimately likely lead to a modernization of regulations and legislation for political calls. Also, it was difficult and a satisfying professional challenge.

A project/story of someone else’s from 2012 that you wish you’d worked on and why:

I am impressed by the work of Quebec colleagues covering corruption in that province. Alain Gravel Marie-Claude Pednault at Enquête, Linda Gyulai at the Montreal Gazette, Andre Cedilot and Andre Noel at La Presse. If it weren't for the work of those journalists, Quebec would not be coming to grips with this serious problem.

Can you describe one or two specific things that you’ve done that you consider to be innovative:

Earlier this week, McGregor and I got an American audio expert to identify a voice recording to connect RackNine to a robocall to Saskatchewan. In the robocalls story, we built a database based on interviews, we used ATIP documents, election records from Elections Canada and some fairly sophisticated interview techniques.

One reason to get excited about Canadian journalism in 2013:

Big data, social media and crowd sourcing offers new techniques for reporters to pierce official secrecy and tell stories about our public institutions. At the same time as the internet is shaking the foundations of our journalistic institutions, it's also offering new ways of finding information.

General comments about having been shortlisted for the J-Source Canadian Newsperson of the Year Award:

It's amazing to be recognized by one's peers. Political journalism is satisfying but also difficult and stressful at times. Being named to the shortlist has been good for my morale.


Rachel Pulfer

Comment from the jury: “Rachel Pulfer of Journalists for Human Rights: For her leadership of JHR and the strides she has made inspiring journalists and educators and advancing journalism in DR-Congo and Liberia. Her innovative partnerships with Canadian media outfits have helped train foreign journalists, raise standards and promote a "culture of accountability journalism" in emerging nations.”

Who is Rachel Pulfer?

Rachel Pulfer, Executive Director, Journalists for Human Rights

Length of time at current publication/organization: Three years

Hometown: Toronto

Favourite project/story worked on in 2012 and why

JHR works with networks of Congolese journalists across the Democratic Republic of Congo, including a group of fifteen journalists based in Goma, one of the largest cities in the war-torn East of that country. In late November 2012, Goma was invaded by a rebel group, and one of their first actions was shutting down all independent local media.

Working with our local networks and partnering with ScribbleLive, JHR produced Goma Live, a live blog written by local journalists from within the occupied city. We sent an expert Congolese journalist and trainer to Goma, Prince Murhula, to show the group of journalists how to write micro-human-interest-features, live-blog and upload stories about the experience of living in the occupied city. We then provided translation from French to English. The result was a unique perspective on war and its aftermath that ensured the average Goma citizen’s views, voices and experiences were an intrinsic part of the coverage of the invasion, both local and international,  despite the rebels’ attempts to shut all local media down. The blog was picked up by and the Thomson Reuters Foundation, and ended up reaching an international audience of approximately 2.2 million.

A project/story of someone else’s from 2012 that you wish you’d worked on and why: 

David Skok of Global News spent part of the year at Harvard, adapting Harvard Business School professor Clay Christensen’s theories of disruptive innovation to the extraordinary changes that most news organizations have been experiencing as the Internet and social media radically reshapes the way that news is gathered and consumed. The result is probably the most important – and clear-sighted – document to be written on the news industry in our time. It provides insightful analysis of the tough challenges news organizations currently face, and several jumping off points to a healthier financial future for the industry as a whole – provided the sector’s leadership is brave enough to try them out. 

Can you describe one or two specific things that you’ve done that you consider innovative?  

In 2012, JHR worked with Lawrence Randall of the Liberia Media Center (LMC). Mr. Randall had devised a way to track 150 days of progress on a set of public promises made by the President, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf by using a network of citizen journalists.  Working together, JHR in Liberia and the LMC engaged a network of citizen journalists across Liberia, linked them up through SMS, and get them to text relevant information about project progress to a research and media hub in the capital city Monrovia.

The LMC then put out a ‘report card’ based on the reports from the citizen journalists, half-way through the 150-day period, giving the President a 19% failing grade on her job performance.  That grade, and the resulting public brouhaha, kicked the government into action. By the end of the 150-day period, the President’s performance had spiked to 66% percent.

On the same project, JHR sent Bonnie Allen, a senior JHR trainer and CBC producer, to the University of Liberia to build a human rights reporting curriculum for Liberian journalists – the first of its kind in Liberia. Working with the chair of the department, Professor Weade Kobbeh-Wureh, the JHR-developed course drew on case studies of best practice in Liberian journalism, supplied by our local media partners and trainers. Result? Liberian case study examples of best practice in human rights reporting will be teaching the next generation of Liberian journalists how to cover human rights.

One reason to get excited about Canadian journalism in 2013

The Toronto Star’s cheekily subversive attitude to investigative news, and its infectious delight in keeping the craft of quality accountability journalism not just alive but thriving.

General comments about having been shortlisted for the J-Source Canadian Newsperson of the Year Award

Humbled and honoured, if somewhat fraudulent. *All* JHR’s work is a team effort – an extraordinary one, encompassing the talents of brilliant and courageous journalists in some of the most difficult countries in the world in which to practice journalism. Everything I have accomplished with JHR is a combined effort of the dedication, creativity, and innovation of the teams both overseas and in Canada. 


David Skok

Comments from the jury: “After years of working in TV news and then helping start, David Skok took his questions about the challenges facing the profession and industry to Harvard University as a fellow at the Nieman Foundation for Journalism. “If we (journalists) can’t make the business case for journalism, nobody else will.” He’s trying to apply some of the theories he explored in his report, ‘Breaking News: Mastering the Art of Disruptive Innovation in Journalism’, back to his newsroom as director of digital for Global News.”

Who is David Skok?

David Skok, Director,

Length of time at current publication/organization:   10 years

Hometown:  Toronto, ON

Favourite project/story worked on in 2012 and why:

Trouble Overhead: An Investigative Series into the Gardiner Expressway

A high-profile investigation that was amplified by our broadcast colleagues and made interactive online, resulting in measurable impact.

When created the Investigative Data Desk unit in 2011 this was precisely the type of investigative reporting we had hoped for.

Freedom of Information requests were filed by online producer, Leslie Young, who then analyzed the documents  and along with Global Toronto City Hall reporter, Jackson Proskow, uncovered internal email traffic and previously unseen engineering studies suggesting serious problems with the elevated road deck. Further, this information was known only to the civil service, but had been kept from city council and the public.

The story was then presented as a three-part series for both broadcast and online that included an interactive graphic placing every issue mentioned in the 2,000 pages of documents on a map of the Gardiner, allowing people to explore each issue and to read the originating source document.

The online investigation and broadcast series generated a significant amount of attention to the severity of the decrepit state of the Gardiner Expressway, and laid the groundwork for immediate action.

A project/story of someone else’s from 2012 that you wish you’d worked on and why:

Snow Fall: The Avalanche at Tunnel Creek

It was a stunning example of what you can do differently with a new storytelling medium.

Can you describe one or two specific things that you’ve done that you consider innovative?

I’d prefer to leave that for others to determine but if I had to pick one, I would hint that our team is working furiously right now to get a few innovative ideas into production and that you’ll soon see for yourself!

One reason to get excited about Canadian journalism in 2013:

I wrote a prediction piece over at Nieman Lab in which I argue that 2013 will be a unique snapshot in time: the incumbents, fighting to stave off the disruptors, will invest in original journalism, and the disruptors, fighting to increase their market share, will also invest in original journalism.”

This is great news for all of us. I think some of our recent hires are proving that thesis to be correct.

General comments about having been shortlisted for the J-Source Canadian Newsperson of the Year Award:

When we published our research paper our goal was always to give news managers a new lens upon which to assess and address the seismic shifts taking place in journalism.  Academically, I will accept this nomination as validation that we have hopefully made a small contribution that moves the needle in the right direction for traditional newsrooms. Professionally, I’d also like to publicly acknowledge the incredibly talented team that we have at for their unwavering dedication and support. We are building something unique within a traditional newsroom and I will accept this recognition on behalf of the team. They are the ones who deserve to be recognized for their courage in charting an innovative new path.