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News influencers with Rachel Gilmore

In this episode Elizabeth chats with journalist Rachel Gilmore about what counts as journalistic content and how to navigate the intersection of journalism and the social media influencer industry. Rachel is a freelance journalist who posts regularly on TikTok (@rachel_gilmore), Instagram (@r.gilmore), and X (@atRachelGilmore) having previously worked in organizations such as CTV and Global News.

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Episode Transcript: News Influencers with Rachel Gilmore

Read the transcript below or download a copy in the language of your choice:

Elizabeth: [00:00:04] Welcome to Wonks and War Rooms, where political communication theory meets on the ground strategy. I'm your host, Elizabeth Dubois. I'm an associate professor at the University of Ottawa and University Research Chair in Politics, Communication and Technology. My pronouns are she/her. It's January 26th and I am recording an episode today with Rachel Gilmore all about journalistic content, journalistic sources online and the news influencer world. And I hope you enjoy. So, Rachel, can you introduce yourself?


Rachel: [00:00:33] Hey, I'm Rachel Gilmore. I am a journalist, previously with CTV News [and] Global News. I've done the mainstream thing for a while, and was laid off sadly in March and started going a little rogue and doing TikTok [@rachel_gilmore] and social media and reporting independently there, which has been a super fun adventure.


Elizabeth: [00:00:53] Wonderful. Thank you. I am really excited to have you here. We're going to chat about news influencers, the wild world of the influencer industry, and how that intersects with journalism. One of the big things that comes out in academia, when we're starting to try and deal with this pretty new, emerging set of actors, is trying to distinguish between journalistic and non-journalistic sources, so I thought that would be a good place to start. When we're looking at the literature from journalism studies and political communication theory, the idea of journalistic content is usually thought of as content that's produced by somebody who has gone to J[ournalism] school, has been trained through some sort of journalism training program, or, at a minimum, content and approaches that adhere to journalistic standards, and these are those very traditional, often idealistic standards of [journalistic] objectivity, transparency, independence [Consult: Out of Bounds: Professional Norms in Journalism as Boundary Markers]. One of the problems with that is, of course, a lot of the people who have been affiliated with big news organizations have been able to go to journalism school, are people who haven't been terribly marginalized in society. The people who are left out of newsrooms are often the people who are most at risk in our society for being discriminated against [Consult: Why Newsroom Diversity Works]. So, it creates this really interesting set of problems with what we define as journalistic sources. Then, when we add the layer of the internet and social media, and we think about citizen journalists [Consult: Who are Citizen Journalists in the Social Media Environment?: Personal and social determinants of citizen journalism activities] being on the ground where newsrooms can't or won't put their journalists, or the idea of influencers who are talking about current affairs and sharing news content, and then people like yourself, who have this journalistic training, but then are using these influencer strategies, really just muddies the waters a little bit [Consult: Followers' engagement with Instagram influencers: The role of influencers’ content and engagement strategy]. So, let's start there. For you, what constitutes journalistic source or journalistic content online?


Rachel: [00:02:51] Honestly, I feel like we're in a bit of a Wild West right now, because there's been so much innovation and so many people who are doing really incredible independent journalism. For me, rather than looking at the source, the title or even the educational background per se, instead I tend to look at the quality of the work and the sourcing that they're using. I personally still do interviews from time to time for my TikTok [@rachel_gilmore] using those journalistic methods. I still get statements, I still make sure I'm using appropriate sources if I'm going to make a claim, and I think that actually checking out whether people are backing up all the facts that they share is what's key in determining whether you should use someone as a journalistic source. There's people calling themselves journalists who arguably have way bigger newsrooms now than someone like me does, but they are not committed to the facts and are cosplaying as journalists. So, I think you have to look at the work itself and then work back from there, as opposed to taking something as fact because it comes from a certain individual.


Elizabeth: [00:04:02] Yeah, I think that focus on fact being a determining factor is really interesting. It's also a little bit difficult in a context where online opinion is such a part of how information spreads. [In the] influencer industry in particular, people tend to like influencers because they offer opinion and perspective. How do you square that?


Rachel: [00:04:26] That's really something I've been struggling to square in my own brain, because I know I have offered (from time to time) my opinion or something that's veering more on commentary. When I was working in these mainstream newsrooms, we were really careful about what was labeled as opinion, versus what was labeled as reporting [Learn more about what is opinion or commentary in the article, Exploring the boundaries of journalism: Instagram micro-bloggers in the twilight zone of lifestyle journalism]. But in this influencer age, people want to know the messenger. It makes me think of that old quote about modeling, where this one supermodel said, "oh, I'm just a clothes hanger". I think that's how journalists used to think of themselves, as, "oh, we're just the clothes hanger for the news, we're not important." But in reality, we're all multifaceted individuals who are coming from different perspectives, with diverse backgrounds, and form our experiences, and whether we like to admit it to ourselves or not, that does impact the framing of reports (to a certain degree), even if we do our best to avoid that. It's hard to determine what is commentary versus reporting. I think it comes back to that fact, where if you're just sharing evidence-based information, and if your opinion even is rooted in, for example, gender affirming care, if a child doesn't have access to gender affirming care, they're more likely to self harm or unfortunately, leave us. And for me to say that refusing access to gender affirming care hurts kids sounds like an opinion, there is a factual basis for that opinion. So, my answer is that I have no idea anymore. I think that's something we need to figure out. But maybe part of the desire to figure that out is more so rooted in our outdated notions of journalism as this untouched, objective force, when in reality it never really has been.


Elizabeth: [00:06:21] I think that's a really good point. We have these ideas of objectivity, for example, as this really important standard in journalism, but the idea of perfect objectivity just can't exist. There's a whole bunch of scholarship within feminist theory, for example (and I am not a feminist theorist, I can't go into great detail about this), but the idea of standpoint feminism is, you need to position yourself before you start making arguments. Even these well-researched academic arguments, no matter how much time, resources and energy you're putting into trying to really understand what's going on, you still can only ever understand it from your particular perspective. So, being up front about what that perspective is - where you come from, how those personal identity characteristics, for example, impact your approach to the information - that helps the reader or listener do evaluations on their own.


Rachel: [00:07:16] Yeah, it almost feels more transparent that way, honestly. I remember having these conversations in journalism school. I even said at one point, "maybe each author should have a bio that says what their biases are, or grounding themselves in some sort of identity and background", because I've worked in plenty of newsrooms where some reporters are nepo[tism] babies who never really had to work a hard job, or who have had very privileged upbringings and went to private schools. I feel like all of these things do impact the ultimate reporting, and I think it's really important to revisit these ideas that anyone can be an impartial observer, because at the end of the day, I'd argue that's impossible, it's more about the distinction. I think of these fake news actors that are skewing the facts to suit a narrative, rather than using facts and then expressing opinion, but presenting those backing facts to their opinion. I feel like that's a really important distinction, because you can present an opinion rooted in fact while presenting those underlying facts to your audience so they can make their own determination, and decide if they agree with you, whereas I've noticed that a lot of people who veer more into the grifter [Definition: a grifter refers to someone who use the political process to enrich themselves] territory don't present all their facts [or] all the work in the context, and they just present the opinion. So, I think that we need to be able to figure out who the messenger is and have that guiding placement of the individual. But in order to do that effectively, you also have to have all of your opinions be rooted in facts that you present.


Elizabeth: [00:08:54] I think that's really important to point out, and also adds a whole other layer of complication where we know that the disinformation that spreads and sticks with people [the] most has some element of truth to it [for more on disinformation, see Season 4 on Mis- and Dis-information]. There's always a little kernel of fact in there. It creates a messy environment. But I wanted to pick up on one of the things you just said, about knowing who the messenger is. This is something that I find fascinating with social media, because we have the initial messenger being the journalist who did the initial reporting, posted it on some existing news site, then it gets shared on social, but then we also have people who are reporting directly via their social, and then we have the people who are doing green screen in front of somebody else's reporting and then commenting and talking about it. Those things all feel very different to me [Consult: Blurring Boundaries Between Journalists and TikTokers: Journalistic Role Performance on TikTok]. Some early research is suggesting that people do evaluate [news credibility] using different heuristics in ways to decide whether or not they think it's trustworthy or credible. Before I get into those studies, do you categorize things like that in your brain when you're thinking about the content that you're seeing online?


Rachel: [00:10:09] I think so. I mean, there's definitely news influencers that are offering commentary on already reported news rather than doing any additional reporting themselves. I don't know if I'd necessarily call those folks journalists, but I don't think they call themselves journalists either. I can think of one example: Frank Dominic and I actually had a really interesting conversation about this where he said, “I'm not trying to claim to be a journalist. I actually do this because I love you guys' work, I want to help it reach a broader audience where you are not. And I want to make sure that we figure out best practices so everyone feels as though they're having their work properly credited.” Yeah, I think that, there's the people who are [doing] more opinion commentary who are just taking, reporting and sharing their thoughts on it, but not adding anything new. 

Personally, I always try to add something a little bit new or gather together, for example, today's TikTok. I'm probably going to cover the ICJ [International Court of Justice]’s ruling [ordreding Israel to prevent acts of genocide in Gaza]. So I'm doing a bunch of research from a bunch of different sources to see what the reaction is to it, what the actual facts of the ruling are, things like that. And I'm not just putting up a single article, reading it and saying what I think of it, or I'll do independent reporting. But what's interesting, is that, because of the formatting of my news, I've noticed in my comments, sometimes people will be like, "I'd love to see a newsroom cover this", or, "it sucks that this isn't being reported on". I hope we can reframe to a point where we do see the journalists who are reporting directly on social media as another arm of journalism, as opposed to categorizing them together with those individuals who don't describe themselves as journalists. It's a tough one, I hope that answered your question.


Elizabeth: [00:11:58] Yeah, that definitely does. We can come back (in a minute or two) to the idea of being a freelance journalist (or not). But before we do, I want to continue on with types of content and then how it gets assessed for quality. One of the things that some studies have shown, is (even) when we go back before social media was a thing, there were differences in how people assessed quality, trustworthiness and credibility of TV versus newspaper news, for example. So when it's the TV, it's the TV personality that people are connecting with, and that's their anchor for deciding if they think, "yeah, I like what this guy is saying". For newspapers, it's actually the newspaper itself or the wider organization. People rarely were making their judgments based on the particular author [Learn more about sourcing on social media in the article, Proximate or Primary Source? How Multiple Layers of News Sources on Social Media Predict News Influence]. And then when we think about social media and all of these different environments where we have different expectations. Like, we expect content to look and feel very different on Twitch than TikTok, Insta[gram],than Facebook, and as new ones come up in other places, that all continues to shift. So, when you're thinking about how you're going to present this content, that synthesis work that you do, and that firsthand reporting work that you do, do you think about having to present it differently depending on the platform? Does that come in? Do you have to curate your content in a way that's different in order to be seen as credible across the different platforms?


Rachel: [00:13:24] Yeah, interestingly, I actually post the same video to every platform I post, but I would say that I used to worry about that a lot when I first started doing my TikToks. I used to worry a lot that all of these people whose approval I used to desperately crave, who are the figureheads of mainstream journalism, would think that I'm doing something that is not journalism, that is silly, or that is something short of real reporting. And then, I realized that in some ways, I'm actually embracing a future of where journalism is headed. And so, that allowed me to lean into the format of speaking at the camera and feeling very present in the reporting. And my face was a huge part of it, which brings the whole other [mess] into the equation. But yeah, the thing that really crosses my mind [when] I'm creating this content is that, among this older generation, they're used to sitting and watching the cable news. They're used to having their newspaper subscriptions. Every single generation is facing this disinformation attack on those institutions, and trust is dropping. On the flip side, I've seen some research that suggested that the younger generation actually trusts their news more when it's coming from a personality as opposed to an organization [Learn more about different generations’ perspectives on news in Reuters Digital News Report 2023: Overview and key findings]. I found that really interesting because we're all very seized with the idea of how to get back this trust that we're losing. I think that for the younger generation that has been raised on listening to influencer recommendations for products and getting to know these people who blog their daily lives and trusting them, that to them is a medium that engenders more trust than someone sitting antiseptically behind a desk and reading something in that classic nasally news voice that, is an affectation everyone adopts when they sit at those desks. I think that's really interesting and worth exploring. Hopefully, my gamble that this is where things are headed and the best way to build trust proves to be correct.


Elizabeth: [00:15:34] Yeah. I'm so glad you brought that up, because there's definitely shifts in people's media and digital literacy, and their expectations. Then that all has this knock-on effect to how they assess credibility, reliability and trust. One of the studies that I read recently, interestingly, found in a fairly small-scale experiment, findings that when information comes via celebrities or like super popular influencers, the original source of the news content only matters if it's highly personally relevant. So it's a thing that people really care about, in which case they're going to go and look at the original source, they're maybe going to do additional reading beyond that, but when it's not something that they care a ton about, they just default to relying on that celebrity or that super popular influencer [Learn more about news citing on social media in the article, Proximate or Primary Source? How Multiple Layers of News Sources on Social Media Predict News Influence]. That is super interesting because it contrasts with this other theory called opinion leadership, where we think about relying on friends and family, associates and maybe influencers who know us better or are like us in some way to filter out the stuff that's personally relevant for us [see our previous podcast episode: The Two-Step Flow Hypothesis with Nick Switzalski]. So we have these two competing theories about how the personal importance factor might come in.


Rachel: [00:17:00] Yeah, that's honestly incredibly interesting. And I don't know necessarily which would be more correct. I think that we're seeing the proof in the pudding, though, with the shift in consumer habits, at least, it is, generationally speaking. So I don't know if it's entirely across the board, that's something I would have to double check. But yeah, I think that people do trust these individuals in a way that a certain generation that didn't grow up with it, or even just 20 years ago (I mean, it didn't exist 20 years ago, so of course they didn't trust it). When it was new, many people were skeptical of it. So, I don't know. I think we're witnessing a shift in action. And there's so many new theories and findings that will probably emerge the more time we spend observing these phenomenons, because it's still relatively new and we're still figuring so many things out about it.


Elizabeth: [00:17:55] Completely agree. One of the other shifts that some of these early studies are identifying is that young people, in particular, seem to actually care less if things are objective or even fact checked or fact based, and they don't expect influencers necessarily to be doing that kind of work, and instead they tend to do a lot of their own assessment of reliability [Learn more about youths’ perspectives on journalism in the article, Does Journalism Still Matter? The Role of Journalistic and non Journalistic sources in Young People’s News Related Practice]. Now they only do it when they care a lot about it. So it's not an all the time kind of situation because it's resource intensive. It takes a lot of time and effort. But I found that really interesting to see that there isn't this expectation of objectivity or even fact checking that is so core to most of our media literacy education. But also, there's all of these systems that young people are developing to get around the need for it.


Rachel: [00:18:47] Yeah, that's actually how we should all be consuming any information we come across, take everything with a grain of salt, look at sources yourself and research more from reliable sources, so hopefully schools are teaching what is peer reviewed. But no, I think it's really great that people are consuming information in a way that isn't just taking for granted that you can absolutely trust everything that's being said to you, because something I think about a lot is that, I know that I take my responsibility to my audience very seriously, and I am very careful to fact check what I'm putting out there and to make sure I'm sourcing things. But I also remember that, when I was working for a mainstream newsroom, there were so many layers. There'd be an initial edit from a managing editor that would check to make sure the substance of it is correct, that there's no factual errors, that you have everything attributed, you fact-checked every claim, and then there'd be a line edit and even that person might catch something.


Rachel: [00:19:52] So there's sort of this Swiss cheese model where mistakes fall through the cracks less often. But I'm my own newsroom now, and it's scary because I don't have that check and balance before I publish, which probably makes me be a lot more careful because I feel a lot of responsibility in my face and everything about me, my credibility is all I have. So, maybe the stakes are also equally high as they are uncertain or dangerous. But yeah, I think that it could be really dangerous in the wrong hands because I know the degree of work it takes to make sure that you're putting out accurate information, so people who aren't as careful or respectful of their audiences could easily become a part of the disinformation problem or misinformation problem in this case, whether they intend to or not. But at the same time, if their audience is consuming it in a more skeptical way, maybe that risk is acceptable because people are being more skeptical? I don't know, it's really tough. It's all the Wild West, as I said.


Elizabeth: [00:20:56] Yeah, it absolutely is. I think about those layers that you've talked about. So there used to be a ton of layers before the content showed up in front of a person (and there still is often a lot of layers), but as some of those layers get removed when people go to a more freelance model or a more I'm-my-own-outlet model, then some of those layers get put on the other end, on the I'm-consuming-this end in terms of who people choose to pay attention to, which algorithms are created that promote one kind of content or another as a particular layer, or the type of skepticism that people might embed. So we used to have a whole bunch of layers before, and now we're maybe adding additional layers on the after point from when it's produced and published.


Rachel: [00:21:43] Yeah. And I also think we might be removing some layers that were unnecessary. What I mean by that is when you have predominantly white, male, wealthy, old fashioned, maybe conservative leaning managers that are the ones deciding whether you even pursue a story in the first place. You know, you have to pitch every story and have it accepted before you report on it. Maybe removing that layer. And I've really enjoyed personally, the freedom of being able to cover what I feel is important, and it's made me more critical of some gaps that I'm noticing, because I know I have been in those newsrooms and felt the skepticism that my pitch is about, say, the far right [Definition: Far right is a term used to describe extremist right-wing politics] were received. They were received with a lot of skepticism. There was a very high bar, and you hear that from a lot of freelancers, and a lot of people who work on the far right beat is that newsrooms are very itchy when it comes to publishing those stories, which is so odd to me. And maybe reflective of that invisible layer of the identities of those who are making the decisions about what is covered and things like the LGBTQ[2SIA+] community being increasingly under attack. I mean, we're definitely seeing some coverage of that. So I don't want to be like, "oh, the media is ignoring it". But there have also been some things that have gone underreported, I would argue, like the kind of rhetoric that's being used that maybe newsroom managers aren't familiar with the implications of, and so they ignore it because it's not in their realm of understanding that this word could invoke a lot of stuff that's really scary for trans[gender] folks, for example. So yeah, I just think that maybe some layers being removed is a good thing. All layers being removed is a risky thing, but more layers being added on the consumer is a responsible thing and a trend that I hope will continue.


Elizabeth: [00:23:34] I mean, I think we need to be wary of the progression of that thought of like, “oh, well, we'll remove that barrier.” And, “We've got the democratized information environment that we always wanted,” because that's not quite true.


Rachel: [00:23:46] No. The only reason I could do this and take this leap was because I got laid off and I got severance [pay]. So I had pay for a period of time. It's really time consuming to do this. So there's still definitely a degree of privilege to even be able to make this kind of content, because you have to do it for no pay. For the longest time, I'm still doing it for no pay. [For example,] my TikToks, I don't have any way of monetizing that yet, because I don't think it would be responsible for me to take sponsorships that I could think of at this point in time.


Elizabeth: [00:24:16] Yeah, I think that all of that is really important. It makes a lot of sense. And as the industry starts to evolve more and more, I think we're going to see more shifts and hopefully it's going to be able to balance things out in some ways, and at least we can get a little bit more aware of some of the ways that it's not balanced.


Rachel: [00:24:36] I think that newsrooms are struggling a lot right now and they're laying off a lot of staff. So there's some layers even being removed within newsrooms that are very important, and I'm not sure the public realizes [they] are being removed to that degree. People are having to do more and more work with less and less time. As teams get smaller, the workload increases and that removes layers of accountability. So it's not even like that model is the pristine accountability model that we might assume it to be.


Elizabeth: [00:25:04] Yeah, that's a really good point. In addition to people within these systems that have previously had, say, ten people and now they have two people on a given team, those people are also now expected to be more personally available, and their personal life should be made more public so that they can have this brand persona, even if they're not going to go to the full extent that you're going with, "I am my own little media company." Essentially, they still largely are expected to have this online following to some degree, and that takes a lot of effort.


Rachel: [00:25:41] Yes, it's such an interesting one because I think that - I don't want to say upper management resents that aspect or doesn't understand it, but - it's this weird catch 22 [Definition: catch 22 refers to a situation in which you are caught doing two things at the same time] where you have to have that following. It gives you more job security. The only reason I got two job offers that were really exciting as soon as I got laid off from Global, and the only reason that happened, [because] it was all [done] through Twitter [note: Twitter is now known as X], because I had a Twitter following and people knew my name to have the most opportunities in this industry, you need a social media following. The only people who you'll hear say that they don't need a following are the ones who already have very successful, very developed careers, who are like, "oh, I just don't bother with that stuff". And I'm like, "that's because you don't have to".


Elizabeth: [00:26:24] You established yourself before that became essential.


Rachel: [00:26:27] Exactly. But then on the flip side, managers are often quite strict or even outdated with their social media policies and the kinds of things that you're allowed to say on the internet. They really want you to be extremely buttoned up. But also, I think that sometimes it's interesting because there will be different standards applied, like if you end up on their radar, for whatever reason, you all of a sudden have this strictness applied to your social media that inhibits your ability to gain followers, that some of your colleagues may not. Additionally, obviously there's that whole death threat component, harassment component, and those disproportionately impact women, women of color, people of color, [2S]LGBTQ[IA+] communities [for more information, consult this article outlining threats against journalists on a global scale], and newsrooms often respond to that by saying, "you don't have to be online, we are not going to make you do this". And then that kind of absolves the responsibility for them because they say, "well, we're not making you exist in this space". Yes, but the industry is. And you're actually asking that person to take a step back from something that is essential, whether we like it or not, to our careers now, and that those people that you are asking to do that are disproportionately going to be from marginalized backgrounds.


Rachel: [00:27:41] And I think that it's very frustrating, the way that newsroom managers don't seem to understand that, because the white men who get the least harassment, although they still get some, face the least scrutiny and face the most pressure from their management to log off and deal with the least repercussions for existing in those spaces. It's just like another way in which unfairness is baked into this industry, because they reap the rewards of becoming well known, having their name known, getting asked to be on podcasts or TV appearances. Like I'm a white woman, so even what I get isn't as bad as some of my friends and colleagues. And I noticed that, even when I was getting death threats, sometimes it would be condemned for me. But they wouldn't condemn what my friends of colour were going through, like Erica Ifill and Saba Eitizaz. So yeah, it's a very double edged sword, but I think that ignoring the fact that it's important or pretending it doesn't matter doesn't help anyone.


Elizabeth: [00:28:41] Yeah, I think that makes a lot of sense. And I'll take this opportunity for a little shout out to a previous episode we did. We had a live recording of a Wonks and War Rooms podcast episode with Fatima Sayed, Rosemary Barton and Mark Blackburn, [where] we talked about harassment of journalists, how to deal with that and what that looks like in the industry.  So if you're interested in that, go over and listen to that past episode. [Access the episode here: Journalism and online harassment with Rosemary Barton, Fatima Syed and Mark Blackburn]. We'll link to it in the show notes, too. But I want to pull out one thing specifically about that, and that's the personal connection to the audience. So obviously there's the people making death threats, but then there's also people who want to get to know you, whether that's for malicious purposes or just like, genuinely, they're like, "I really love what you're doing! This is so cool! Tell me more about your life!" And that sort of get-personally-connected-to-your-audience is something that goes pretty against a lot of traditional journalistic standards, but is super baked into the influencer industry and the way that content creators make their money. How do you deal with that very different set of expectations between these two worlds that you're straddling?


Rachel: [00:29:53] Yeah, I think that's where I had to make a choice. I had to gamble on what I think the future of journalism is going to be, what's going to be outdated and what's going to be normalized in the future. I'm gambling on that personality aspect being normalized, and I really hope I'm right, because one of the aspects that I have had to build a thicker skin about has been watching prominent industry colleagues (not many of them, but a few of them) speak disparagingly about me and call me like a TikTok journalist in a disparaging way, and act as though what I'm doing is somehow less than journalism. But I see the results of it. I get the feedback from the public, from the work that I'm doing, and I know I'm still having an impact. You know, I have the people whose stories I tell [who] tell me what a difference it made for them that I told their stories. The most amazing thing has been I've had a few members of the LGBTQ community, specifically trans[gender] identified individuals, come up to me in public and say, thank you so much for your journalism, because it makes us feel like we’re being heard or someone cares.


Rachel: [00:31:02] And our job as journalists like, that's, I think, what we're losing sight of sometimes in these conversations is our job is to communicate facts to the audience so they can make their own opinions. But I'd also argue our job is to help people whose voices have been quieted or who are being attacked within a society, and to be that voice or that microphone for those groups. A lot of the people who are not embracing this new model are also clinging to other outdated ideals that are less personality based and more buttoned up. But that buttoned-upness is actually rooted in a very white, male privileged bias (that is a bias as much as they say that it isn't). And so I hope that's making sense, but I feel like I would rather do the work in this way, where it's reaching these audiences, where it's having this impact, where I know what I'm doing is journalism, people know where I'm coming from, they know what I care about, and they know my motivations for doing the journalism I'm doing, than refuse to embrace this new way of doing it.


Elizabeth: [00:32:19] It totally makes sense. And it goes back to what we were talking about earlier, of the expectations that folks might have of journalists and the idea of maybe a good way of doing journalism is to know the perspective of the journalist is coming from and to not assume that they can come from a perspective of nowhere. It brings us full circle nicely.


Rachel: [00:32:42] Yeah, absolutely. I think that the most important thing is : know your messenger. I mean, if you're reading the National Post, you're going to get a perspective that you wouldn't necessarily get from the Toronto Star, that you wouldn't necessarily get from the Breach, etc. All of these publications have perspectives, and the sooner we admit that to ourselves, the sooner we can start rebuilding trust with our audiences.


Elizabeth: [00:33:05] Yeah, from the audience perspective, know[ing] your messenger is key. I think a lot of people who are content creators and influencers and who study the influencer industry, would argue that knowing your audience, knowing your followers, is essential. How much time do you spend really understanding the people who choose to follow you?


Rachel: [00:33:27] I read way more comments than I should. I like, read almost all of them and quote tweets and everything. Mainly because I don't like to assume that I always get everything right and I just rapidly refresh all my notifications, especially when I first post in case there was a glaring error that I somehow missed. But no, I really try to notice what communities I'm serving. The LGBTQ issues are a really good example, because I think that a lot of members of those communities feel as though mainstream journalism doesn't cover the threats to their community to the degree that they would like to see. I also would argue that we miss a lot of stuff, and we did miss a lot of stuff in mainstream journalism that is really important and really scary to these communities. And when I see the comments are like, thank you so much for covering this. I wish more people were covering this and things like that. I think, okay, this is a beat that I need to stay on top of, you know, when the Israeli Palestinian conflict erupted, that was one where a lot of folks were feeling as though not enough was being said about the journalists in Gaza and the kids, and all of these atrocities happening in Gaza [for more information on journalists in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, consult NPR’s article: Gaza war is deadliest conflict for journalists in over 30 years].


Rachel: [00:34:40] And we've seen a shift in that conversation since October 7th, but I try to be receptive to what communities are hurting and feel as though their voices aren't being heard; and you can find a lot of that by reading the reactions to what you're reporting. And also just honestly, by reading what's happening, if you educate yourselves on what certain rhetoric means, immerse yourself even in the flip side, these hateful communities and watch the escalations there, you can really catch on to some issues that might otherwise be missed. So that's how I try to respect my community, is I listen to what they want to hear more of, and if a video doesn't do as well, I'm like, "okay, maybe you guys don't care so much about that. Maybe that's like a pet project or a pet interest of mine". Sometimes I'll overrule and I'll do it anyways. But you know, I try to listen.


Elizabeth: [00:35:32] That's really interesting. And again, I think it really illustrates the back and forth that you're having to do between traditional approaches to journalistic content and having a particular beat and getting to know that beat really well versus the social media content creator influencer world, where you cultivate your community by testing out different kinds of posts and different kinds of content and topics, until you hone in on the thing that's going to resonate and going to get you as many views as possible and the most engaged fans as possible. It sounds like you are navigating between those two logics in a way that, you know, obviously is working to a certain extent! You've got quite a lot of people who are tuning in to see your posts.


Rachel: [00:36:18] Well, thank you first and foremost! It's been honestly really cool to see that because when I first started doing it, I didn't know anyone would care to consume information that way, so it's been a really fun test because it's been working. There's certainly a lot of people who hate my work too. But again, when I was talking about being receptive to the community, I don't listen to the people who are saying slurs to me, and are clearly all coming from a kind of misinformed perspective, I look at what the overarching theme of what's being said and who it's coming from, and weigh things that way. Like if someone clearly just hates the messenger by virtue of it being me, as opposed to the content of what I'm saying, and they're not really engaging with it. I pay attention to that too, but it definitely seems to be connecting. There seems to be an appetite for this way of consuming information, and I feel like newsrooms who aren't embracing this new way of doing things are leaving views, clicks, and eventually - I'd argue - money on the table because their failure to innovate is reducing their reach [For an example of embracing social media in the newsroom, consult Networked: Social media’s impact on news production in digital newsrooms].


Elizabeth: [00:37:26] Yeah. There is so much more we could talk about, but we are coming to time. So I want to end off with my typical little pop quiz. So this is going to be an easy one for you though, because you have spent a lot of time thinking about it. If you were given an exam question (short answer), what constitutes journalistic content? What's your 1 or 2 sentences?


Rachel: [00:37:55] I would say fact based information provision to a wide audience.


Elizabeth: [00:38:02] I love it, that is great. Thank you so much for your time. This has been a great conversation.


Rachel: [00:38:07] Yeah, it was really fun. Thank you so much for having me.


Elizabeth: [00:38:10] All right. That was our episode. Looking at journalistic content, sources online the news influencer world. I hope you enjoyed [it]. As always, you can find links to a bunch of additional resources in the show notes. You can also head over to where you'll find annotated transcripts in English and French with tons of more resources for you to check out. This season of Wonks and War Rooms is supported in part by the University of Ottawa's University Research Chair in Politics, Communication and Technology. I also want to acknowledge that I am recording from the traditional and unceded territory of the Algonquin people, and I want to pay respect to the Algonquin people, acknowledging their long standing relationship with this unceded territory.

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