By Dylan C. Robertson
The New York Times has hired its Toronto Bureau Chief.
Toronto Star columnist Catherine Porter has been hired as the lead journalist in Canada, while the Times retains its longtime Ottawa reporter and tasks two Manhattan-based journalists with covering the country.
Deputy international editor Jodi Rudoren and three other senior editors are meeting January 26 to 27 with all four reporters in Toronto to plan the newspaper’s Canada coverage while building its second-largest subscriber base outside the United States.
“Our future is in being the leading global news organization,” Rudoren told J-Source in an interview. “That means globalizing the report, as well as globalizing the audience.”
No plans for more Canada hires
Rudoren said Porter is the only Canadian joining the Times for now.
“For us to be able to take one of Canada's signature journalistic voices—to lead our expansion and be the Toronto Bureau Chief —it's just a great coup, and we're thrilled about it.”
For more than a decade, most of the paper’s Canada coverage has come from Ottawa-based correspondent Ian Austen.
Since February 2016, former China correspondent Dan Levin has increasingly covered Canada on trips from New York. He’s reported on missing and murdered women in northern British Columbia, profiled Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi and described a visit to the Canadian Museum for Human Rights in Winnipeg.
Both will focus on covering Canada.
Rudoren has no plans to hire more Canadian staff, but could lean on seasoned reporters as fixers.
“We’re talking about doing some partnerships with local reporters, particularly on investigations where we might match some of our skills, and our resources, with some of their kind of local knowledge and sourcing.”
She also hinted that the Times might take on photographers and video journalists who have already freelanced for the newspaper. "We might add someone in Vancouver; we might add visual journalists up there.”
The Canada expansion doesn’t involve a special freelance budget, and the Times seldom buys news stories from Canada, though it has bought style and travel pieces.
“I think we have a good resources deployed now in Canada. I'm not sure we need freelance. But if people come with pitches, we'll listen to them, for sure.”
Fewer hires than in Australia
The Times’ Canada expansion is different than its outreach to Australia, where twice as many staff will work out of a new bureau in Sydney, Australia, as the newspaper revealed Tuesday.
The Times has hired three Australian journalists, with plans to hire more.
Rudoren says “people across the newsroom” will instead be flying to Canada more, to cover individual stories on everything from books to climate change or food trends.
“It’s a little easier for us to do that in Canada than almost any place else,” she said, noting that Manhattan staff will curate social media and multimedia for Canada stories.
“We need Australia to be a much more autonomous, self-contained operation.”
Growing its subscriber base
Rudoren said that Times has “about 44,000 subscribers in Canada,” and that it’s a 47 per cent increase since 2015. Last month, Times CEO Mark Thompson told a conference 13 per cent of the newspaper’s subscriber base resides outside the U.S.
The Canada expansion is aimed at getting more subscribers, by increasing the Times’ visibility in Canada, and drawing them to coverage of the entire world, according to Rudoren.
“Our main focus is on the key story lines, the key themes, investigative targets, narrative targets,” she said. “We're not, with four people, going to compete with any of the papers there.”
“What we offer is journalism that stands apart from most of our competitors. I don’t think there's anyone in Canada doing the kind of journalism that we do,” she added.
Making an impact in Canada
Rudoren admitted the Times is “definitely grappling with” how to cover a country so vast and sparsely populated.
“We do think the whole country's interesting, and we do understand the profound regional differences; and we are equally interested in east and west, and cities and rural areas.”
At this week’s Toronto meeting, Rudoren and her colleagues will talk about prioritizing coverage, “and how to split our focuses among our staff, and whether geography should play a role in that.”
But she hopes the newspaper earns a reputation that transcends novelty.
Last Friday, British Columbia premier Christy Clark said she would no longer receive the $50,000 salary top-up from her political party’s donations. The news came after months of opponents raising the issue, but Clark didn’t respond until a week after Levin covered the issue for the Times, setting off a media storm in the province.
“We’re glad people are noticing what we’re doing, and appreciating it,” she said. “The more important thing is that we’re doing stories that have impact, and that maybe make a difference on Canadians’ politics and maybe their lives.”
Rudoren took the example of a series on privately sponsored Syrian refugees in Toronto. She said it was a topic most Canadians had already heard of, but vivid reporting and global photography drew “huge audiences” from Canada and abroad.
“We want to be really open to what Canadians think is really missing in their media landscape,” she said. “We don’t want this to be a one-way thing where The New York Times comes in and has its own agenda for what it means to cover Canada.”
Rudoren says the Times will be reaching out to Canadians for ideas and user-generated content. For now, Canadians can share ideas and feedback at this email address: firstname.lastname@example.org.
“We think this is, at least, a two-way street. The best thing that could happen is for some reader to suggest something to us, that turned out to really be a blockbuster piece of journalism that turned heads and made waves.”
Editor's note, Jan. 26, 2017: This story has been updated to better clarify how the New York Times will work in Canada, and the role Porter will take. We apologize for the error.
Dylan C. Robertson is an Ottawa freelance journalist covering Parliament Hill, focusing on social policy and violent extremism.