This site is part of a multi-year research project begun at the UBC Graduate School of Journalism and funded by SSHRC. The formal long title of this project is: “Arctic Journalism: Examining norms and practices in an era of environmental change and global audiences.”

Elsewhere on the site, you can find more formal and full descriptions of the scope of the project. What I’d like to do with this first blog post is provide a sense of the inspiration and thinking behind what we’re hoping to accomplish with this project.

A few years ago while I was finishing up my book manuscript for How Climate Change Comes to Matter, I began chatting with my UBC colleague, Kathryn Gretsinger about the work she had been doing with CBC Radio in the Arctic. Both of us had in common the amazing experience of flying into Arctic communities, and being inspired by the ways these communities (and their journalists) thought about media, the role of journalists, and the global world outside the Arctic.

At the Journalism School, what students and faculty think and talk a lot about is change. Change to the industry, to the platforms and devices our audiences are using, to the ways we think about information and democracy, to the educational needs of new journalists, and on it goes.

It hit me late one day in July 2012 that the Arctic region of Canada might be one of the best sites to look at how journalists are responding to changes to media platforms as well as to global attentions related to resource development and climate change. The Arctic Climate Impact Assessment, released in 2004, has irrefutably shown that the effects of climate change in the Arctic would be much starker than they will be for the rest of the world. In the last decade, media from all over the world have covered Arctic changes with staggering images of sea ice loss, melting glaciers, permafrost melt, and coastal erosion. The polar bear for global publics is closely associated with a warming and vulnerable Arctic.

Mulling this over, I had one of those unforgettable moments where I suddenly dropped everything I was doing, and sat down to write a long email to Kathryn and our UBC colleagues, Alfred Hermida and Mary Lynn Young. My email was long-winded, but here’s a brief excerpt of what I said:

“The Arctic presents a geographically isolated and diffuse set of communities that are very much built on longstanding personal, historic, and familial relations.  Recent changes in terms of governance across the Arctic (Nunavut, land claims settlements, Greenland home rule, etc) and longstanding indigenous social movements, as well as, enormous environmental change related to climate change present a situation that is at once hopeful and immensely challenging and unpredictable.  This research would specifically address shifts towards journalism training for longtime public broadcasters and their experience of media change and convergence within a context of much larger changes and demands on their journalism.”

We dropped the focus on public broadcasting, but not the goal of understanding how journalists are experiencing both real and projected changes in their physical environment and their professional environment.

Alfred Hermida joined me in working on the proposal as a Co-PI and brings considerable research and practice expertise to our research team. Kathryn Gretsinger remains an important collaborator as our internship coordinator for the Journalism Program. We also asked Tony Penikett, Taylor Owen, and Minelle Mahtani to join us as collaborators. Each, as you’ll see on the team page, bring significant areas of expertise on the Arctic, media change and journalism to the project.

This research project will run for 3 years. After hiring three research assistants, Maura Forrest, Ricardo Khayatte and Peter Mothe, our first step has been to look closely at how the Arctic is represented in international, national, and regional/local media. Our fantastic research team will start to post some of those early analyses very soon. [Editor’s note: The research team is now Peter Mothe, Alexander Kim, and Lauren Kaljur. Zoe Tennant has also contributed research for this project.]

The next step will be to send our research assistants into Arctic newsrooms for a brief stint. The Journalism School requires that students undertake 12 weeks of internship in a newsroom so part of the deal in signing on to work on this project is that RAs have to head north for a while! We’re excited that our students might be able to both contribute to and learn from working journalists throughout the Canadian Arctic.

This project benefited enormously from our first RAs, UBC Journalism alums and now working Arctic journalists, Garrett Hinchey and James Thomson (whose many photos grace the site). As well, Nora Saks helped out as an RA when we first launched the project in the fall.

We’ll keep you posted here on the blog, and throughout the site on our progress in the months ahead.