The acclaimed journalists visited Ryerson to discuss differences between Canadian and American elections, news cycles and social media
Ryerson alumni Farah Nasser, anchor for Global News, and Josh Wingrove, White House reporter for Bloomberg News, visited their alma mater virtually on Tuesday for a discussion about the differences between Canadian and American elections, news cycles and the role of social media in the countries’ distinct political narratives.
The two acclaimed journalists spoke to a collection of Ryerson students, faculty and administrators over Zoom and fielded questions from John Beebe of Ryerson’s Faculty of Arts and Davie McKie, deputy managing editor at the National Observer. Nasser and Wingrove drew on their experiences covering both Canadian and American elections, specifically over the last two years.
Elections and polarization
“The U.S. media environment is so polarized, and I’ve never been able to sort out yet which is the chicken and which is the egg in terms of polarized politics and polarized media environment,” said Wingrove. “It’s a lot different down here.”
Wingrove likened election coverage in the United States to college football, during which each side passionately cheers on their team. He added the number of voters who split tickets, voting one party for president and the other for their house or senate candidate, is steadily declining, but said while the country is polarized, communities themselves are not. People tend to vote the same way as people who live around them, Wingrove said, which isn’t necessarily how things are in Canada.
However, Nasser stressed Canada must be reminded of its own regional divides. “We talk about the United States being divided—let’s not forget the regional divides we saw after (our) last election. We saw provinces that were totally one way, and others where we saw large cities that were totally the other way.”
Nasser added Canada has a real political divide between towns and cities—something more commonly associated with the United States. “We saw that divisive rhetoric as well happening here.”
However, both were quick to point out the ease with which Canadians can vote in elections compared to American counterparts, who often have to wait hours in line to cast ballots and face myriad attempts to disenfranchise voters.
“I can’t remember the longest time I waited to vote in Canada. Ten minutes? It would be in that ballpark,” said Wingrove.
Both Nasser and Wingrove took time to discuss the virtues and iniquities of social media’s role in the news world. Wingrove described the power to harness Twitter as a source-gathering platform and communicated its new role as essentially a newswire.
“It’s that basic, whether it’s source development or what (Nasser) said about reaching out to people whose perspective is not really being served or covered, you have to meet the source where they are,” Wingrove said. “If they’re someone who likes talking on the phone, great. If they’re someone who likes texting, great. If they’re someone who likes firing back and forth in your DMs, you’ve got to be there.”
Nasser pointed out social media is a great form of communication, but that reporters will be judged by their social media feeds as well. She pointed out that a group called Muslims for Trump, which she tried to contact, wouldn’t speak to her on the record.
“They looked at my past Tweets and declined an interview,” said Nasser.
Both spoke about the phenomenon of “news deserts”—places in Canada that don’t have local news coverage—flocking to social media for their news. Often, news disseminated by social media can be full of inaccuracies.
“They believe that fake news because they’re not being served by the traditional news interests,” said Nasser, adding that it’s becoming more challenging to wade through news on social media when disinformation is doctored so well and has become so believable.
The lengthiest section of the discussion, which was addressed again during a Q-and-A, was about the nature of the news cycle itself.
Wingrove conveyed his worry about the slide towards a “balkanization” of news coverage in Canada based on the insidious distrust of media he’s seeing in the U.S. The opportunity for people who distrust news media—especially in “news deserts”—to slide towards social media and disinformation is unsettling.
“A lot of folks don’t think there’s any coverage of their community because often there isn’t and it’s problematic,” said Wingrove.
Nasser brought up the trouble of covering politics in the age of Trump but decried the level of antagonism between competing news organizations.
“I spent a lot of time in my hotel room just flipping between Fox and CNN and MSNBC and I was really struck at the level of almost ridicule,” said Nasser of her time on the road covering the election. “There’d be something on CNN and then Fox would screengrab that and show that and make fun of it. Then CNN would screen grab that and make fun of it. It’s like they were obsessed with each other. I thought to myself, ‘what purpose does this serve?’”
Nasser said when news is ridiculing the other side, it doesn’t further the ultimate purpose of the media to inform and give facts, while adding she hopes the government will provide funding to help address the issue of news deserts.
“I think the governments have to see that democracy and news is good for everyone,” she said. “It is a facet of democracy and we need to serve people, especially at a time when information is so critical.”
The talk was part of the Democratic Engagement Exchange at Ryerson University. More sessions are expected soon.