By Mira Nabulsi
Transcribed By Shira Ragosin
Jane and Finch can mean a lot of different things depending on whom you ask. Mainstream media outlets tend to focus their efforts concerning the community in a less than positive light. Often, the perceptions created by the media, trickles down into the opinions of the general public.
In this interview VIBE Talk Correspondent Mira Nabulsi talks to Janelle Brady, Sales Coordinator for The Downsview Advocate. The Downsview Advocate, is one of the alternative media and community based organizations active in taking back the narrative of their own story.
Janelle speaks about the work The Downsview Advocate does within the community, as well as how the paper, like Paul Nguyen’s Jane-Finch.com, works to bring in raw alternative voices from the community into the picture.
Mira: How did you get your start with The Downsview Advocate?
Janelle: So actually, we started with it about 3 years ago, it started off as a community project, and we just thought that it would be a way to send information out to the residents in the neighbourhood [about] local news, local issues, and events. So we really didn’t think it would grow into much of a company. At that point, it was the number of people who lived in the area, who worked in the area, who got together and said it was something we needed in the community. From there we started our first issue, we started with a circulation of about 10,000 houses, and we realized there’s definitely a need; there’s a need for positive media outlets in the community, which you would be aware of because often the community is labelled in negative ways by mainstream media. So growing up in the neighbourhood, I thought it would be a good idea to showcase the neighbourhood, and showcase the amazing things that are happening. Also there was a need for local businesses to advertise in a local news publication, which is affordable and very local, [which is] what the residents wanted it to be here.
"From there we started our first issue, we started with a circulation of about 10,000 houses, and we realized there’s definitely a need; there’s a need for positive media outlets in the community, which you would be aware of because often the community is labelled in negative ways by mainstream media."
Mira: Does The Downsview Advocate have a mission statement?
Janelle: Yes. The mission more or less is to increase the civic engagement within the Downsview area and that pretty much has been our model straight throughout. So what we’ve done is, ideally, we put calls in the newspaper, and we want local people from the neighbourhood to contribute to the paper. All of our content is volunteer driven because there is a need for people to get their messages out to the community and there are a number of people in the neighbourhood who want to give back. So they volunteer, they submit articles, we have monthly meetings where we get together, have coffee, have tea, we chat about what we’re going to do for the next issue. It’s very grassroots; it’s driven by members of the community who have a vision for what they want to see, so by increasing civic engagement, we mean people being involved and volunteering. But not just volunteering, and punching in, punching out, and leaving, but it’s something that is kind of shaping and transforming community.
Mira: Speaking about the volunteers, do the volunteers have to have some sort of experience in writing to be featured in the paper? What do you look for in volunteers looking to write for The Downsview Advocate?
Janelle: Good question. So a lot of our volunteers are first time writers, they’ve never published an article before, and then we have a lot of seasoned writers as well. So our editor Sorena Zahiri is great in that she would work closely with people and let them know what they can do, and she kind of mentored people into that role. Of course those monthly meetings that we have, where we decide on what our focus is going to be, is that opportunity for people to get feedback and pitch their ideas. Or if they want to write on something but don’t know where to even start, the editor does have a priority and themes each month that needs to be addressed, so people don’t need a wide range of expertise, or knowledge, or background, because they’re kind of trained. And sometimes what we do is we pair people up as well. So a more seasoned writer would work with a newer writer on an article.
Mira: Recently we’ve seen in The Downsview Advocate that you guys had an article covering the Jane and Finch organization PEACH (Promoting Education and Community Health), and the lack of funding that it receives. Is that an issue you guys see a lot within the community? Are there any other issues that you guys tackle within your paper?
Janelle: That’s one of the many issues, but the newspaper receives a wide range of issues that we cover. That’s definitely one because what we’re seeing is a lot of organizations are moving into more short term funding, instead of long term core funding, and that’s where it comes back to that civic engagement. We’re reminding people that a lot of it has to do with policy, not even municipal policy, not even provincial, but at the federal level. A lot of the cases that we saw in 2008 are trickling down to the municipal level at this point and that’s where we see a lot of the core funding, ongoing funding and programming support being cut off from people. Another piece of that too is that a lot of the programs we have, and that have started in the community, are a band-aid to a failed system. They’re a band-aid to cuts in the school board, they’re a band-aid solution to lack of childcare, lack of childcare places. So all of these things kind of relate and that’s where we try to connect the dots in the newspaper as well. Our writers do a fantastic job of that. But for instance another major issue would be the closure of the hospital at Jane and Finch, close to the highway 400, between the Humber River Regional Hospital and the opening of the new hospital, a lot of residents did not know, and we did a three-part story on this. They did not know that the hospital, that the urgent care centre, was shut down. So people were literally driving to get there and horrible things have happened that we’ve covered in the paper. Because the distance from, let’s say, Tobermory to Humber River Regional Hospital at Finch, is a lot different from going to Tobermory all the way down to Keele and Wilson, if you’re in an urgent care situation, right? So that’s the kind of thing, or some of the issues that we cover in the publication.
Mira: Are there any last things you want the listeners of VIBE 105 to take away from the conversation we’ve had?
Janelle: I would just say again, just to reiterate, the avenue is there and people can defiantly take that step. I know a lot of people that I’m close to and I encourage them to write, and they say: “No I can’t do that.” It’s daunting, even for myself, I would write once in a while, but I’d have to really push myself to do that. What I do is I just get people to review what I write, I run it by the editor of course, other people who are involved too. So once you get into it, it’s not that bad, it’s not that intimidating. It’s a lot of fun actually, and you can learn from the process in itself. And you know if you see something you don’t like, someone wrote about people littering, who lived around the Driftwood area, and we wrote about how he just picks up garbage himself. It’s something that’s important to him that he sees, and doesn’t likes, and helps to fix it. So instead of discussing it, or complaining, or seeing it and not really talking to anyone about it, he wrote about it and maybe somebody else is doing the same thing too. Or someone else has done that for years. But it’s just an example of how we can really shape what we want to see; we don’t need to wait for anyone to shape our community for us. We can shape it, we can create those avenues and then we can mentor people as well to do the same thing. So I would just encourage people to just take the plunge, just do it, and there’s tons of people out there who are willing to help.
For more information visit our website.