Toronto officials are offering media training to an east-end community rocked by a mass shooting last week after they say residents complained about how they were being portrayed in the news.
Scott McKean of the city's community crisis response program said residents in the Danzig Street area requested the training after finding their neighbourhood swarmed with reporters eager to interview them. The residents "recognize that there are a lot of eyes on their community" and want to make sure they send the right message, Mr. McKean said.
But city councillor Denzil Minnan-Wong says the training – advertised to residents on posters with the title "Close Encounters of the Media Kind" – is inappropriate.
"I don't think taxpayer money should be used to spin a story or craft a message. The community should speak their minds and say what they feel," Mr. Minnan-Wong said.
"I've never heard of any government assisting the public in trying to spin a message."
The poster advertises the training, which will be held Friday, as a "workshop about dealing with the media" and how to "protect your message."
Friday's media training session is one of several workshops and services the city is providing the community to help it recover from last Monday's deadly attack, Mr. McKean said. The shooting left two people dead and nearly two dozen injured.
Adam Vaughan, a Toronto city councillor and a former journalist, said the training is a great idea.
"This neighbourhood has been traumatized and since the shooting has seen an unprecedented influx of media," he said.
"I think this is a really responsible way to respond to the media spotlight that this neighbourhood has been thrust into and letting them understand how to protect their best interests as journalists go about their work."
As police continue to search for suspects in the shooting, there are safety concerns that residents need to keep in mind when they talk to reporters, said Mr. Vaughan.
"Anything that's said publicly puts people at risk, puts the neighbourhood at risk of retaliation."
One element of media training is understanding how what you say might be edited, said Mr. Vaughan. "If you say 'this is a great neighbourhood, there are a few bad apples' what might get clipped is 'there are a few bad apples.'"
Alyn Edwards, a partner at public relations company Peak Communicators in Vancouver, said such training can help people understand how members of the media work.
"Somebody who hasn't received media training can be very easily led into saying things that they otherwise would not by persistent questioning through reporters who are very skilled in asking questions," said Mr. Edwards, a former reporter who now conducts media training workshops.
"I was one of them at one point and I used to be able to get people to say pretty well anything if they weren't schooled."
Mr. Edwards teaches his clients to stick only to the facts.
"Don't speculate, don't answer questions that are hypothetical," said Mr. Edwards.
Toronto police have vowed to beef up their presence in at-risk neighbourhoods next month. Officers will face mandatory overtime, which will free up their colleagues to walk the beat in selected areas.
With a report from Carys Mills