Made in Ryerson: Talk Media wants to redefine the live events space for journalists

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By Teresa Valenton

Adam Chen, a graduate of Ryerson University’s master’s of journalism program, founded Talk Media, an events and experience company that aims to create unique spaces for aspiring storytellers and journalists alike. 

Founded in November 2019, Chen said Talk Media seeks to step outside of algorithm-based journalism to build communities through local storytelling. By introducing live journalism to aspiring journalists, Talk Media aims to create inclusive spaces for marginalized communities to be heard.

It was through journalism professor Sonya Fatah that Chen found the inspiration for Talk Media. According to The Catalyst, a space dedicated to creative endeavours at The Creative School, Fatah’s research and production lab stitched! responds to the challenges journalists face within the industry through documentaries and verbatim theatre productions.

Chen participated in Fatah’s lab by connecting with students across The Creative School to work on a project that would become his master’s thesis, and later influence the creation of Talk Media. 

Chen also explained that his research and curiosity led him to join the Transmedia Social Ventures Zone at Ryerson, where he would build upon his ideas to start a live journalism company. The intersection of storytelling and community development allowed Chen to steer away from traditional forms of journalism. 

The Social Ventures Zone works with entrepreneurs to develop their business ideas, providing them with support through coaching, training, workspaces and funding opportunities. 

Rather than seeing the pandemic as a disadvantage, the Talk Media team saw it as an opportunity for innovation. As a result, they created what the company describes as “pandemic-proof” events that would differ from other online events. 

“People were going to be not only used to, but bored with Zoom events. We wanted to do something that would be exciting and transformable,” said Aurora Zboch, a storyteller at Talk Media and graduate of Ryerson’s journalism program in 2019. 

”This is something more than storytelling. It’s a big overall community experience that people can get involved in.”

Talk Media claims that it has a strong focus on creating a high-quality multimedia platform that would ensure Chen’s high editorial standards are met from his creative visions. Therefore, all of the events that take place in the Talk Media space are hosted through Gather. 

Gather is a proximity-based video space where users get to run around in the metaverse with their virtual characters, similar to some Nintendo games such as Animal Crossing. In this interactive space, users can come across one another and communicate at their own convenience. 

In November 2020, Talk Media launched its pilot event named Shiny Talking People, a one-night interactive storytelling event featuring Zboch and Owen Guo, a local journalist.

The speakers delivered their presentations through popular live streaming platform Twitch and Toronto-based Rally, a video platform provider that lets people hop between breakout rooms with one click while hearing the chatter of other breakout rooms around them. 

“Sure enough, it went very smoothly…We did not have to worry about the moment and what live elements we [have to] focus on instead of trying to deliver a story that would be worth doing live,” Zboch said. 

On Nov. 10 and 12, Talk Media will be hosting another event titled Toronto Rewind which will present new perspectives from the city’s past. Tickets start at $34.99 CAD, and the event will run from 7-9:30 p.m. on both dates.

It will allow participants to virtually explore Toronto through an interactive map and connect with local journalists. Those who attend are able to invite friends to explore the customized event grounds where six unique stories about people, places and events will be shared.

Event attendees can look forward to learning about frequently visited destinations throughout the city. This includes the history of the dispensaries in Kensington Market and a journey to the New Lawrence Heights.

“What we’re really playing with is the ability for people to interact with stories on their own terms to have a choice of their own adventure style…It’s very much just go at your own pace and explore it as you want and skip what you want,” Chen said.

By creating a loyal audience, Talk Media hopes to create a recurring presence in the lives of aspiring journalists within the Greater Toronto Area. The company philosophy aims to have people immerse themselves in the field of journalism with their peers. 

“When we’re inviting audiences to come check us out as opposed to inundating them with information…that will build a sustainable audience and community,” said Zboch.

Through the use of Gather and the concern for virtual events, Talk Media continues to use live journalism as means to connect with audiences amidst the pandemic. 

”This is something more than storytelling. It’s a big overall community experience that people can get involved in,” Chen said.

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