By Sarah Boesveld
As Ryerson pushes to expand as a research facility, its media relations department will hire a new media officer this January.
The department will form a two-person team by the end of the month and start developing an accessible catalog of experts, similar to the University of Toronto’s Bluebook, which provides journalists with an easy-to-use database of faculty experts.
Janet Mowat, Ryerson’s manager of public relations, is excited about the possibility of a new team member.
“The more dedicated staff we have, the more of a resource we can be,” Mowat said, adding that the department plans to go back to canvas each of the faculties in preparation for a hard copy academic experts resource.
Meanwhile at U of T, public relations officers are considering halting the publishing of their long-running hard copy.
“With the advancement of technology, I can see the hard copy (of the Bluebook) cease publishing,” says Ruta Pocius, Director of Issues Management and Media Relations.
National Post Toronto crime reporter and Ryerson alum Natalie Alcoba, admits she’d sooner scan U of T’s Bluebook than Ryerson’s site to find academic experts because it’s accessible, and there is a media line reporters can call to find sources outside regular office hours.
“Ryerson? It’s not my first stop,” she says, noting that she has called Ryerson up in the past, but only because she remembered the professor from a class she had as an undergraduate.
“I think it has a lot to do with familiarity,” Alcoba says.
While Daniel Girard, education reporter for the Toronto Star admits U of T is where he seeks sources “right off the bat,” he’s been calling Ryerson up more often throughout the past few months.
“They have a pretty proactive communications department, they get story ideas out there,” he says of Ryerson’s media relations department. Also, Girard covers more research stories out of York and U of T, meaning he has more contacts there. Still, he has faith in Ryerson’s efforts to grab the media’s attention. “I think you guys are getting better at it,” he says.
Media relations records indicate Ryerson received 3,200 media mentions in 2006 — a near doubling of media mentions from 2004.
President Sheldon Levy is pleased with the media department’s renewed efforts. “When our academics begin to be called upon more to have those (expert) opinions, then society begins to look at the university, as a bigger player,” he said.
While Ryerson may not be up to pace with its larger neighbouring schools, it’s better known for expertise in specialized subjects.
Politics chair Neil Thomlinson and politics professor Myer Siemiatycki are go-to municipal politics experts in Toronto. Reporters flocked to interview Thomlinson and Siemiatycki during this past fall’s municipal elections.
Globe and Mail Toronto editor Gregory Boyd Bell likes Ryerson not only for municipal politics experts but also for “marketing, the online world and the cross-over between pop culture and marketing,” he says, adding that Ryerson experts give much clearer and more direct answers than other academic sources he’s tried talking to.
“We’re not looking for dumbed-down answers, but comprehensible ones the general public can understand,” he said.
For Boyd Bell, Ryerson appears less concerned with overtly promoting its experts to the media as U of T or York.
“There isn’t the push versus the pull.”
Ryerson faculties that haven’t been pushing for media attention in the past years aren’t feeling shut out.
While Ryerson’s school of engineering received virtually no mention in Toronto media in 2006, that doesn’t worry Stalin Boctor, Dean of Engineering.
While he admits a little media attention never hurts, it’s certainly not high on the faculty’s list of priorities and media relations isn’t to blame for the absence of news stories written about them. “It’s not the university, it’s the professors who create their stature in society,” he says.
This appears to be exactly what some of Ryerson’s most-quoted have done for themselves, though they credit the school with working hard to encourage profs to talk to the media. Siemiatycki lends the credit for his many media requests to the fact that he’s been teaching at Ryerson for 25 years. He says he’s gained some media savvy along the way.
“For my first 15 years (at Ryerson) I regularly taught journalism students,” he says, raising the point that these students who are working in the industry now remember him from their undergraduate classes.
Siemiatycki also worked in broadcasting with Open Colleges, a program affiliated with Ryerson and Toronto public radio station CJRT.
“Over time you learn to return phone calls quickly and give (the media) answers that fit, while compressing the language,” he says.
Thomlinson sees talking to the media as a service he owes the taxpayers of Ontario in return for doling money out to universities.
“I feel like I have a sense of duty. When someone needs explanation for some kind of process, you kind of feel like you owe it,” he says.
“It shows the world the university is actually doing something. I think the public is entitled to that.”