Reporting on Canada for The New York Times

Reporting on Canada L1002331

From his vantage point at Brown’s Inlet, Ian Austen has for the last 15 years 
reported on Canada for The New York Times. Photo: Ian Willms

bSymbol-New-York-Timesy Ian Austen

For almost 10 years, The New York Times’ headquarters has been a landmark building on Eighth Avenue designed by Italian architect Renzo Piano. For the last 15 years or so, its Ottawa bureau has been much less impressive: it’s in the basement of my family’s semi-detached house (architect unknown) near Brown’s Inlet.

I’m one of the many journalists who live and who, in some cases, work in the Glebe. But unlike many of my colleagues, I don’t just cover the goings on at Parliament Hill. From my base in the neighbourhood, I keep an eye on the entire country and, depending on the editors’ orders, must be prepared to file stories as widely ranging as political analysis to coverage of the Stanley Cup finals.

Many Canadians, within the Glebe and beyond, have told me that they are surprised that The Times is interested in Canada and even has reporters based here. But that’s been the case since before Confederation and I’ve rarely encountered an editor who was dismissive or uninformed about the country.

The 2015 election of the Liberal government led by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has, of course, only increased the rest of the world’s interest in Canada. And The Times itself has become keen on the country as well, for different reasons.

The Times is one of a handful of general news organizations that have been successful in getting people to pay for online news. Currently, it has about 2 million digital-only subscribers, 2.3 million if you toss in people who pay for various crossword products. Canada has always been, by a wide margin, the largest source of those subscribers outside of the U.S.

After Clifford Krauss left Toronto for Houston in 2006, I was left to cover the country by myself for a decade. That was good and bad. It allowed me to cherry pick the best or most interesting stories. But when a number of major news events happened simultaneously my life in the basement (or away on assignment) could become very hectic.

Ian Aug 2017 Reporting on CanadaIn 2016 as part of an effort to get more Canadian subscribers, my work life became a bit less solitary. Two reporters based in New York, Dan Levin and Craig S. Smith, were assigned to cover Canada as well. Then this year, we hired Catherine Porter as the chief of the reopened Toronto bureau. Budgets have also been rearranged to make it easier for other desks, like Science and Culture, to send up critics and specialist reporters.

Despite the increased staff, I somehow seem to file more than ever and on as wide a range of topics as ever. And I also now write a weekly Canada email newsletter. Pardon my shameless plug: you can subscribe to it at www.nytimes.com/newsletters/canada-letter.

We’re not pretending to be a substitute for established Canadian news media. And, generally speaking, our stories from Canada must work for our global audience, not just Canadians. So, for me, that usually means finding stories that the Canadian news media have largely overlooked (like the fate of the house where the Dionne Quintuplets were born) or providing context and background for broadly political or economic stories (like the Trudeau government’s end run around President Donald Trump, including  one story featuring the Glebe’s member of Parliament).

And from time to time, I’ve even worked the Glebe into stories. When cauliflower hit $8 and became the talk of the nation in early 2016, I spoke with Jim McKeen at McKeen Metro Glebe, and some events at Lansdowne, like the FIFA U23 championships, have caught the eyes of the editors in Sports.

At a time when we’re being constantly reminded not to spend money frivolously while reporting, any story that involves simply walking out to Bank Street for reporting is probably a good story, at least to the people in The Times’ News Administration Department.

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