Under Western Skies (Thursday)

I didn’t make it to the conference on Wednesday because the TransCanada highway was closed for part of the day due to accidents (it was snowing a lot!).

UWS logo

On Thursday, I attended sessions and the keynote.

The keynote was delivered by Tim Ingold, professor of social anthropology at the University of Aberdeen in Scotland. 

I was intrigued with his ideas about the connection between the Earth and the sky. He explained “the ground is where the sky and Earth mingle with each other. It’s a penetrable surface.” Ingold went on to say that we see the Earth and sky as broken up by the surface of the planet, but instead we need to remember that this zone is where photosynthesis occurs, which fuels the world, so this makes this Earth-Sky zone a dynamic environment.

MRU

The afternoon session was presented by journalism professors from Mount Royal University. This talk was called “The Alberta Oil Sands, Journalists and their Sources,” and presenters Janice Paskey and Gillian Steward talked about their research study of 20 journalists who have been reporting on oil sands in Alberta.

Their study found that the participants like reporting on this huge issue for Canada, but are disappointed that they cannot find or access sources for other social issues surrounding the oil sands. One surprising bit of information I learned is when journalists call federal agencies in Canada, the response must be vetted/staged by the Prime Minister’s Office. This gives the Canadian government a more unified response but is very frustrating for journalists when reporting oil sands stories.

Other panelists spoke to the history of social dialogues through the eyes of academia, industry, aboriginal voices, environmental groups and the government over the past 40 years. As you could imagine, views have changed overall since the 70’s. Dr. Amanda Williams, researcher and professor at MRU, made some interesting points explaining these changes through her study:

The discussion of oil sands development has changed from national building to being an energy superpower around the world.

Language about the oil quality has changed as well. If people are talking about environmental concerns and risks, the oil is dirty. If people are talking about possibilities for trading partners, the oil is safe and clean.

Williams also explained that in the 70’s, Canada was more enthusiastic towards having the United States as a partner in the oil sands venture, but now the industry is more fond of Asian markets instead.

Dr. Gillian Steward took the stage next to continue the conversation about the study she did with Williams. She continued on to say that most of the articles written about the oil sands by Canadian national papers are in the business section, not the environmental section.

After talking to my Canadian cousins about this, it seems that these women may just live in a media bubble. When my cousin Erin heard all of this, she was a little skeptical. However, it is good to get the views of both media professionals and citizens of this great country.

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