How to save (censored) journalism

media censorship inspired a class of Canadian journalism students to
create a multimedia news portal that embraces social media
and digital content as they cover post-election Iran,
Jenny Vaughan writes.

the sky is not falling. That was the take home message from Jeffrey
Dvorkin’s Journalism Workshop, a class of 13 second-year
Master of Journalism students at Ryerson University. The course, dubbed
“saving journalism” by students and faculty,
required students to design a news model that delivers quality content
in a digital media environment.  

The story we were covering:
post-election Iran. The name of our website:
TehranTo covers Iran
Iran was an interesting focus for many
reasons. Namely, internet censorship has barred
journalists—both foreign and local—from reporting
freely and fairly inside the country. It was also a great story to cover
because last June, when citizens took to the streets to protest
contested election results, much of the coverage (including footage of
protestors being killed, beaten and arrested in the streets of Tehran)
was leaked to the West via social media sites such as Facebook and
Twitter. Much of the information that reached us in the West was from
shaky videos or grainy pictures shot with cellphone cameras.

of turning up our noses at Twitter and Facebook, we learned the value
of such tools as a means of seeking out sources, gathering news tips and
promoting our own work. The way Iran was covered profoundly changed the
way we thought about covering events in parts of the world where the
media is not free. It also made us realize that quality foreign
reporting can be done from our desks, as the New York Times’ Nazila Fatah has

site we produced is a multimedia platform that offers original content,
ranging from an interview with Iranian-Canadian band, Blurred
who recorded a Pink Floyd cover to protest President Mahmoud
Ahmadinejad’s contested rule, to an audio
Nik Kowsar, an exiled Iranian editorial cartoonist. The site also
aggregates stories from other reputable sources and provides up-to-date
breaking news

from Iran.

Our main goal is to provide unique
stories about Iran that don’t appear in the mainstream media,
which tend to focus on Iran’s nuclear program and President
Ahmadinejad’s relationship with the West. But what’s
missing is the other side of Iran—the bourgeoning arts and
culture scene
on-the-ground perspectives from Iranians
who were in the streets

of Tehran last summer, and what exiled Iranian journalists have
to say about their country

target readers are members of the Iranian exile community and others
who had a particular interest in the country. The ultimate goal is to
market the news model to a mainstream news site. The beauty of the model
is that it can cover any story, any where in the world, at a limited
annual budget of $150,000, with a core team of three reporters and
editors and a handful of freelancers. And if a story suddenly blows up
in a particular part of the world, say in Kyrgyzstan or Thailand, our
news model can get up and running in a matter of days.

class was lucky enough to have our professor’s encouragement.
Dvorkin was previously the Vice President of News and Information and
later ombudsman at National Public Radio in Washington. He also spent
over 20 years at CBC Television as a reporter, editor and producer.
During class, he was consistently optimistic about the future of
journalism and encouraged us to push boundaries and embrace new methods
of reporting, instead of shying away from them.

It was a great way to finish our
two-year graduate program, and has left us hopeful about our futures in
the industry, ready to take on anything, even if it means getting some
news out in 140 characters or less.