by Marcus Medford in Toronto
Journalism students say they find value in learning how to report on immigration and race issues. Many would like to see more specialized courses focused on diversity and inclusive reporting.
“There’s never been a time in my life when this has been more important,” says second-year journalism student from the University of Toronto, Tijuana Turner, referring to the current refugee situation and Justin Trudeau pledging to bring 25,000 Syrians to Canada.
“For example, describing it as a ‘flood’ of refugees isn’t okay when most people associate a flood with disaster,” she explains.
Turner moved to Canada from Jamaica two years ago to study at the University of Toronto’s Scarborough campus (UTSC). She says the course “Covering Immigration and Transnational Issues” offered at UTSC, which teaches students to analyze news coverage, has helped raise her awareness.
The course includes material on how media outlets frame stories related to race and immigration and how these frames can shape people’s perspective. Before taking it, certain things went over Turner’s head, she explains, but she’s become more critical.
“You shouldn’t start by saying ‘Refugee Tom...’ That's not inclusion, that’s ‘us vs. them.’ You should try saying, ‘Tom, who is a refugee,’” Turner explains.
Teaching critical journalism
datejie green is the Asper Fellow of Media at Western University and a lecturer at UTSC.
green teaches “Critical Journalism”, which she describes as a “mobilizing, embodied, intersectional approach to journalism” meant to give students a fresh set of eyes to critically engage journalism. The course examines how media cultures address gender, ability, class, sexuality and race.
“We want to learn about intersectional ways of thinking and mobilize that critical analysis to make sense of everything and write respectfully,” green shares. “These are not static, abstract ideas that we learn and leave in classrooms; these are things journalists need to have at their disposal.”
Class discussions involve examining the impact and importance of perspective in media. green’s objective is to cross cultural divides in a humanizing way. She says she is open with students about her experiences – as a woman, as someone who’s black, lives with mental illness and is a lesbian – and how it relates to perspective.
“That shouldn’t detract from my validity as a journalist or a teacher; it’s just a frame. But it allows me to explain how my body is experienced, why and what’s the impact,” green explains.
Fatima Al-Sayed is a second-year journalism student in green's class. She says the course is “extremely important” because students become aware of different perspectives, which helps journalists “not to write from pre-conceived ideas or ignorance.”
“As a woman who wears a hijab, I know the image the media portrays of me because it’s my day-to-day life,” Al-Sayed explains. “I feel like my role in journalism is to change that perspective, but I can’t if I get pulled into that kind of thinking.”
Integrating diversity lessons throughout j-school
Specialized courses aren’t the only way to teach these concepts in journalism school. At Langara College in British Columbia, lessons about perspective and diversity are integrated into every course, explains Frances Bula, chair of the journalism program.
Bula says that in addition to having classrooms and newsrooms that are ethnically diverse, it’s crucial for students to understand the importance of diversifying their sources.
“From day one, we talk about the importance of diversity and the dangers of getting too comfortable talking with people from a similar age, gender, race, or income background,” Bula explains.
Journalists should also look to groups who may not have access to the media or may not speak perfect English, Bula adds.
Petti “Peg” Fong, the assistant department chair at Langara, says courses solely about reporting on race and ethnicity aren’t necessary for journalism students.
She adds, though, that it’s important for students to understand that audiences and sources come from all different backgrounds to help prevent stereotypes being perpetuated by the media. This is taught throughout other courses, she explains.
Students’ role in addressing media bias
A study from Australia noted that negative and stereotypical coverage of Muslims can foster alienation, which plays into the hands of extremists, says Brad Clark, the journalism and broadcasting chair at Mount Royal University in Calgary. Clark did his doctoral dissertation on representations of ethno-cultural minorities in Canadian media.
Clark says that news gathering should be more inclusive, especially stories that focus on specific communities, or else it runs the risk of stereotyping and misrepresenting.
He also says that journalism students can play an important role in addressing implicit biases of mainstream media.
“They must be allowed to influence news gathering when it strays into the realm of the stereotypic,” he says. “Students need to understand that sometimes it is OK to explore the experience of race, that talking about race isn’t the same as being racist.”
These issues have become increasingly relevant for j-school students to explore, says Lysia Filotas, a second-year journalism student at Carleton University in Ottawa. Carleton, like Langara doesn’t have a course dedicated to reporting on race and ethnicity, but incorporates it in lessons, something Filotas finds valuable.
“As a reporter, it’s important to learn how these topics colour one’s world views and how not to project that onto someone else during the interview and writing process,” she explains.
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by John Delva in Montreal
Blacks make up Montreal’s largest visible minority. According to the 2011 census, 147,100 live in the city. Why, then, are there so few in our media?
As far back as the 1930s, black journalists in Montreal have been creating and fighting for space for their voices.
Dorothy Williams, strategic development director at Collective Community Services, a local non-for-profit community organization, traces back to 1934 Montreal’s first newspaper aimed at black readers. The Free Lance, which folded in 1941, was meant "to counter the pervasive negative portrayals of Blacks in their city's media [sic]."
Community newspapers similar to the The Free Lance are still where the black media presence is strongest in the city. In fact, Community Contact, which has been around for more than 20 years, has been home to the first bylines of many reporters who went on to high-profile roles in the news business.
Shelley Walcott is one of them. Some 50 Canadian news organizations had turned her down before CNN came knocking in 1997. During her stint there, which ended in 2003, she was first a video journalist for the network, then a reporter for the children’s show “CNN Student News.”
Initially, she attributed the rejection letters to the province’s political climate, still searing over the 1995 referendum—being part of the province’s anglophone minority felt “like I was on the outside looking in,” she said.
Since 2013, Walcott has been a main anchor at New Hampshire’s WMUR-TV. Experience has deepened her hindsight.
“I’ve been in the business for 20 years and when I see people [coming out journalism school] and how green they are, I understand what an employer is looking for. To be successful at anything, you can’t blame anyone else, because it’s very competitive out there."
Breaking into the business
It can also be lonely. Shari Okeke, a writer and broadcaster at CBC Montreal’s “Daybreak,” recalls being the only black reporter in the Montreal newsroom when she arrived in 1999. She had reasons to be optimistic, though, she said via email.
"I landed a paid internship … at a newspaper in Ontario straight out of journalism school. After that, I was unemployed for about two months while I searched full-time for a job in television."
That’s when Okeke began at CBC’s national newsroom in Toronto in 1997. As an editorial assistant she was “splitting scripts, delivering scripts and rolling teleprompters,” she said. “Even changing toner in the printer.”
She became a chase producer four months in. The producer who hired her later revealed how she had stood out.
“He chose me because while working as an EA [editorial assistant] on his show, I paid attention to the program, contributed as much as I could and demonstrated a clear interest in being more than an EA.”
But while making it in journalism is difficult for hopefuls of all backgrounds, those from non-white communities shoulder heavier expectations, said CTV Montreal’s Maya Johnson via email.
“I do think visible minorities need to push harder, do more networking and really advocate for themselves. And once they get their foot in the door and pay their dues, they need to take initiative and ask for advancement opportunities."
Networking is an obstacle Shani O. Hilton, executive editor for news at BuzzFeed, also talked about—namely how many underestimate it.
"Many of us are so busy working twice as hard and hoping to get noticed that we don’t do the networking that seems like bullshit but is actually a key part of career advancement,” she wrote on Medium in March 2014.
Understanding the Quebecois mentality
But networking does not explain the shortage of blacks in Québec media, said Reginald Rivette. The editor-in-chief of Souche magazine thinks the insular mentality of Quebecois black communities is what restricts their media visibility.
He said media organizations’ disinterest with black communities starts with the latter’s entertainment choices. He explained that while a Denzel Washington or an Oprah may appeal to many demographics in America, this kind of crossover appeal is rare in Québec.
This is because second-generation Quebecois blacks favour U.S. celebrities, in addition to stars from their family’s home country—but reject local Québec culture and its celebrities. Rivette said this self-seclusion directly affects who media companies and advertisers covet.
"Québec show business should be bending over backward to sell us products, but if we’re not paying attention to local celebrities, why should they make the effort to reach out?”
He initially targeted a multicultural audience, handpicking Algeria-born Lynda Thalie, who’s based out of Montreal, for the cover of the first issue of Souche. Lack of interest shifted the magazine’s focus to a black-only readership.
“The idea of ‘multicultural' makes for nice speeches, but it’s a different story in everyday Montreal. People from different backgrounds don’t really just come and blend together."
Those who complain about the lack of black representation in the media, he said, should get more involved in local culture. Government grants available to top Québec producers are at every creator’s disposal.
“We can’t ask for the ‘establishment’ to look for us, find us, then give us work as we sit there waiting."
One glance at Johnson’s bio, and you would be hard-pressed using words like “sit" or “waiting.” The recipient of a Canadian Women's Press Club scholarship began at CTV Montreal as an intern in 2005. She was 21. The network hired her in 2012 permanently after close to a decade of freelancing, part-time and substituting work.
Johnson, who begins her job as CTV Montreal's Québec City bureau chief this February, mused that none of this might have happened had CTV not reached out.
"I was hired through a visible minority internship program. There’s no shame in that. The news director and executive producer made it clear to me: I wasn’t there to be a token. They had high expectations."
Shifting the reluctance to publicly address race
Okeke thinks minority reporters are essential to newsrooms, not just for the stories they can contribute, but what they can contribute to other reporters.
"It's...really important for journalists of colour to share what we're hearing and experiencing in our communities with colleagues in our newsrooms, in order to bring attention to those issues."
Neglecting minority issues comes with serious consequences, she said.
"When people do not feel the media reflects their reality, they can be hesitant to talk to the media at all," said Okeke.
Jean Numa Goudou, editor-in-chief of In Texto, said that ultimately the reluctance to address race publicly falls back on the shoulders of Québec officials. Goudou collided with the race wall first-hand when he asked for numbers related to blacks in the education system. The Québec government referred him to the province’s school boards. They, in turn, ignored his calls. He got an answer after approaching a non-profit organization.
“I was told that the government thinks the Haitian community would be stigmatized if such numbers were released. They do this to be politically correct—but this approach doesn’t help the community,” he said. “The mainstream media has to cover these topics, amongst others, so that people from different races learn more about each other."
Last August, Goudou broke a story on Héma-Québec, the province’s blood services agency, after it began accepting a larger pool of black female donors. The story received no attention in the mainstream media. This disinterest will affect the well-being of all Canadians, including future ones, he said.
“As more immigrants arrive, the public health system has to adapt. Blacks consume media too [and this helps] Héma-Québec to find more donors. This is a public health issue."
This article first appeared on J-Source.ca. Republished with permission.
by Marcus Medford in Toronto
International students and children of immigrants say pursuing post-secondary studies in journalism can motivate both encouragement and opposition from their parents.
Sharif Hasan’s parents didn’t argue with him about his program choice – although they did express concerns. Hasan immigrated to Canada from Bangladesh in 2013 to pursue a master’s degree in journalism at Carleton University in Ottawa.
According to Hasan, the life of a journalist in Bangladesh is “not ideal.”
“Most young journalists struggle for years to get employed at a good media house,” Hasan explains. “Many of them don’t get a permanent job at all.”
Money in journalism has become an issue internationally due to the increased number of freelancers, the shift to digital platforms and the shrinking of newsroom staff in order to save money.
Media outlets across North America have laid-off hundreds of workers in recent years. For example, Bell Media laid off 380 workers and Sports Illustrated magazine cut its entire photojournalism department in 2015.
Journalism not always a ‘safe’ option
Parents like programs that offer clear-cut paths to “solid careers” says Maryam Shah, a reporter for the Toronto Sun, who came to Canada from Pakistan to study journalism at the University of Toronto.
Shah wanted to be a reporter since she was 11 and says she “pushed back” when her parents insisted she study law or medicine.
“In Pakistan, that’s just what you do,” Shah shares. “Anyone who says they want to write or travel the world, they look at you like there’s something wrong with you.”
Shah adds that parents are becoming more understanding when it comes to their children’s career choices, but they still prefer ‘safe’ options like engineering or teaching.
Fewer opportunities for minority journalists
Journalism hasn’t proven to be a stable career for Hasan; he struggled to overcome the language barrier, as well as to find work in journalism, so he dropped out of the program.
Hasan’s situation is not all that unique for visible minority or ethnic journalists.
While there is a growing number of visible minorities enrolling in, and graduating from, Canadian journalism schools, they are not necessarily the ones getting the jobs.
Research has found that some of the perceived reasons for the under representation of visible minorities in journalism include hiring biases, fear of harassment and networking barriers.
While Hasan says he never personally experienced those challenges, he admits they were things both he and his friends were concerned about.
“In fact, they have discouraged me to go for journalism because of these issues,” he remarks.
Ingrid Grange immigrated to Canada from Jamaica and encouraged her daughter, Ashleen, in her interest to become a journalist. Grange says she hopes that the barriers students face as ethnic minorities “will have the opposite effect” on them.
“I would hope that it would make people of different ethnicities want to be in the media more so they can show that we’re out there and we should be taken seriously,” she says.
Some visible minority journalists worry about their ethnicity being a defining factor of who they are and fear being perceived as a ‘diversity hire’ by their peers according to a MediaSmarts study.
According to Grange, Ahsleen, who is now in her fourth year of journalism studies at the University of Toronto, says she sometimes has difficulty being taken seriously as a journalist, both because she is a woman and because she is black.
“I think you have to turn that tokenism around and use it in your favour,” says Grange. “It’s hard to get in the door, so if that’s your way through the door don’t hold back. You can’t change things from the outside,” she adds.
Pursuing journalism despite risks, barriers
While there may be risks and barriers involved that keep first- and second-generation Canadians – often visible minorities – from careers in this field, discouraging them from pursuing journalism only perpetuates the problem.
According to Shah, journalists benefit from sharing a newsroom with people from diverse backgrounds. She says she has been able to explain and give context to certain topics which allowed her to “tone down the ignorance” amongst her peers.
Having different ethnicities and perspectives means that inevitably not everyone will agree all the time. Shah notes that sometimes she and her peers “fight” over story ideas, and that she considers this a positive.
“If we all had the same thought processes or the same experiences we wouldn’t put out a very interesting paper,” she says.
Editor's Note: NCM has condensed and revised this article to include Ingrid Grange as an additional source. The original article was published on November 12, 2015.
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by Marcus Medford in Toronto
Journalism and the media play a major role in forming a national identity and informing the public about what’s important.
That is why Rohit Joseph, who is currently in the Masters of Journalism program at The University of British Columbia (UBC), says that people of diverse backgrounds play an important role in the media.
Joseph and his family moved to Vancouver, British Columbia from New Delhi, India when he was nine years old. The 23 year old has spent most of his life in Canada and identifies as Canadian.
“If the news media and political establishments want to improve their relationship with the diverse ethnic communities that make up this nation, we need qualified journalists from these communities to represent them,” he says.
It starts in j-school
Joseph’s UBC classmate, Jessica Quin (a pseudonym), says that journalism as a whole doesn’t accurately represent Canada’s diversity and that there’s more work to be done – and it starts in the classroom.
“Ethnic diversity in journalism schools is not only important, it is absolutely necessary in an ever-changing Canadian multicultural landscape,” says the 24 year old.
Journalism programs, like all other post-secondary programs, have a responsibility to produce graduates of all ethnicities. Failure to do so is a “disservice to the country” according to Carleton University journalism student Jolson Lim.
In the United States, a survey from the Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication found that approximately one out of every four students majoring in journalism or communications is a visible minority.
In Canada, according to Humber College journalism program coordinator Dan Rowe, it seems that while there is a considerable number of visible minorities graduating from j-school, they aren’t the ones being hired.
Quin says hiring challenges are something she hears of often from friends already working in the industry.
“In truth, you will be more easily hired if you are white, because you fit the standard status quo and implicitly fit into the newsroom culture,” she says. “Journalists of colour have to work harder to land a job in the industry.”
‘White values’ remain dominant
Guyanese-born Varsha Ramdihol remembers watching as her parents struggled to find employment due to hiring biases when her family first immigrated to Toronto.
Ramdihol, 18, studies journalism at the University of Toronto Scarborough’s campus and has a “very diverse” class, which she thinks is important. Still, she admits to one major concern: her ability to find a job when she graduates based on what she looks like or cultural stereotypes.
Ramdihol says that, if hired, she and other visible minorities can bring added value to the news through “background information, context and history” when it comes to certain events.
Jeffrey Dvorkin, 69, is the director of U of T’s Journalism program and teaches a class at the Scarborough campus. Like Ramdihol, Dvorkin says his class is very diverse, which, he adds, is a good thing. But the former National Public Radio ombudsman does have some concerns.
“I worry that as journalism schools graduate journalists of colour, that they may reflect a class perspective (educated, middle class) rather than a purely ethnic one,” the professor explains.
Dvorkin admits that while reflecting a class bias can be a negative thing, it isn’t always. “It’s just part of the business,” he says.
Miglena Todorova of U of T’s Ontario Institute for Studies in Education (OISE) agrees with Dvorkin’s claim. Todorova, an assistant professor in social justice, says that the ethnic composition of a classroom doesn’t matter if biases exists.
Todorova explains that the class bias within journalism is entrenched in the profession.
“Journalism therefore continues to be dominated by a particular set of needs and knowledge and those are the values of white people,” Todorova adds.
Todorova argues that many of the people in decision-making positions working within mass media are white and as a result “journalism refuses to shake its own whiteness.”
“You have to ask yourself ‘who is teaching these programs?’” Todorova adds.
“I have never encountered a non-white professor in journalism,” says 20-year-old Hannah Wondmeneh, a fourth year journalism student at Carleton University who self-identifies as Ethiopian-Canadian.
Wondmeneh's observation is not uncommon it seems.
Of all the students New Canadian Media spoke with in writing this article, the only one who said he saw his ethnicity represented amongst the faculty was a Caucasian male from Alberta.
Dvorkin thinks that balancing conflicting forces is the key to solving issues of diversity in journalism. Dvorkin admits that academia can be rigid when it comes to accepting new ideas, but he’s confident there is a way to “make them compatible.”
But for Wondmeneh, what’s troubling is that she feels as if nothing is being done about it.
“We don’t talk about,” she says. “It’s as if it’s a non-issue, not anything that would need to be addressed, and I find that frustrating.”
by Shannon Clarke (@_clarkeshannon) in Toronto, Ontario
When Rogers Media announced it was cutting 110 positions in May, Canadians — journalists, community leaders and critics — focused on OMNI. Not just because the station received significant cuts, but also because of what it has come to represent.
“OMNI, being something that is synonymous with diverse communities and also with the face of Rogers — we were very surprised and shocked by [the announcement],” Jason Merai, executive director of the Urban Alliance on Race Relations (UARR), said of the company’s decision to eliminate Cantonese, Mandarin, Italian and Punjabi newscasts from OMNI’s broadcast. “Why would you eliminate that access to an opportunity for [newcomers] to gain knowledge to be engaged in this country?”
Since the announcement, the UARR, along with several other organizations including the Chinese Canadian National Council, Ontario Council of Agencies Serving Immigrants (OCASI) and the Canadian Ethnocultural Council (CEC), have co-ordinated to lobby against the cuts. Since May 7, they have held press conferences, drafted petitions and written letters asking Rogers to reconsider. They are now asking the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) to step in.
Cuts were anticipated
Depending who you ask, the decision isn’t much of surprise. The financial fragility of OMNI — just one of the reasons given for the cuts — wasn’t news. In 2013, OMNI’s Portuguese and South Asian newscasts were scrapped. Last year, former Rogers president Keith Pelley told the CRTC that OMNI was in “crisis” and expressed concern over Canadians’ changing viewing habits. Much of OMNI’s revenue depended on U.S. programming that can now be viewed online.
“Given the length of the time OMNI has been in decline we had exhausted all other options to reduce our costs,” Colette Watson, vice-president of television and operations wrote in an e-mail. That included cutting the most expensive U.S. programs and implementing an all-ethnic schedule on OMNI 2.
In June, executives at Rogers announced they would replace the newscasts with current affairs programs. A move, Watson said, that is in line with other broadcasters, “both ethnic and mainstream English and French,” hoping to reduce operating costs.
“We are not just cutting programming; we are replacing it with more relevant programming in the same language,” she wrote. “We are hoping that our audiences will give the new shows a try and are confident they won’t be disappointed with the depth of local issues these programs explore.”
Expected or not, the elimination of multi-language newscasts from one of Canada’s largest and most recognizable media companies is a loss to the communities they served. The response that followed has demonstrated the importance and vulnerability of third-language media and made Canadians more aware of it.
Ethnic media not surprised by cuts
While OMNI is not the only multi-language media outlet in Canada, it is one of the most visible and, under Rogers’ umbrella, relatively insulated from the funding challenges faced by smaller, independent operations.
Joe Volpe, publisher of Canada’s only daily Italian-language newspaper, Corriere Canadese was unsurprised by the change at OMNI.
Though he believes Rogers’ decision will work in the company’s favour, he is critical of the idea that the way to adapt to the new media landscape is to scale back traditional platforms and cut programs.
“Part of it is a self-fulfilling prophecy of saying that nobody follows news anymore; they can get anything they want online or they go to their smartphone,” he said. “And of course, the longer you repeat that mantra, the more likely it is that you’ll believe it.”
In 2013, Corriere Canadese briefly ceased operation when its parent company, Multimedia Nova Corp., was placed into receivership. Volpe, a former MP, joined with investors to buy the paper and resumed publication.
Now, with an editorial staff of 10, the Toronto-based publication delivers a morning paper to its subscribers on everything from local and federal politics to the European Champions League. Only after subscribers have received their paper does the edition go online.
Volpe believes the 61-year-old paper — founded by the late Daniel Iannuzzi who also established CFMT, now known as OMNI — remains competitive by focusing on the needs and interests of the Italian community. “Maybe we’re wrong but we have a niche market and we’re trying to reinforce that market.”
The importance of ethnic language media
Though many multilingual publications and broadcasts have relatively small markets, it’s a mistake to overlook their political diversity, reach and longevity, said Daniel Ahadi, a PhD candidate researching ethnic media and public policy at Simon Fraser University in Burnaby, B.C.
“Ethnic language media, third-language media, immigrant media … embedded in that language is that they’re marginal; they’re not part of the mainstream,” he said. “We have to move beyond this because some of these so-called ethnic language media are quite big in terms of operation.”
In 2007, he co-authored a report on more than 144 ethnic media outlets representing more than a dozen communities in Vancouver alone. “Third-language media is part of a communication infrastructure that caters to newcomers,” said Ahadi.
This connection between journalism and immigration is something Merai and many of those advocating for the restoration of OMNI’s third-language [i.e. non-French or English] newscasts have witnessed first-hand.
It’s how his Italian grandparents learned English, and how many newcomers to Canada keep up with issues in both their adoptive and home countries. (Not to mention, said Amy Casipullai at OCASI, they provide employment opportunities for foreign-trained journalists looking to continue working in their field.)
Ahadi pointed out that while other public broadcasters such as BBC and Australia’s Special Broadcasting Service have incorporated multiple languages into their programming, Canada has been slower to respond to demographic changes, placing most of the responsibility on private broadcasters to provide multi-lingual services.
One in five Canadians reported a mother tongue other than English or French on the last census; 80 per cent reported speaking a language other than English, French or an Aboriginal language. Though language policies are intended to protect Canada’s national languages, the Broadcast Act requires broadcasters to “support the linguistic duality and multicultural and multiracial nature of Canadian society.”
It is these principles organizations fighting the cuts are hoping the CRTC will keep in mind.
Re-published with permission from J-Source.ca.
by Joe Banks in Ottawa, Ontario
There’s a frequent question we hear from parents and their offspring considering enrolling in our program that likely reflects a broader perception in society: “Isn’t journalism dying?”
It’s understandable. Nobody wants to send their kid into a field of study that had its better days in a bygone era.
But that perception fails to reflect that, far short of gasping on life support, the process of journalism is thriving—has thrived—in the wake of massive disruption to the traditional platforms that carry the stuff journalists create. Once they understand that journalism is not a static artifact in itself, they understand and can see the broader opportunities beyond the moment, and the product.
Still, it’s a tough bout to fight. After all, the news industry itself chronicled its own decline. Classroom guest journalists, the grim truth hitting close to their own desks and colleagues, began to tell our students to “run away and save yourselves while you still can,” with tongue not quite firmly in cheek.
I’d wince at that, because they often wouldn’t offer the qualifier: that this remains an extremely fulfilling career, and that disruption followed an unprecedented 30-year period of massive growth and bloated profits. And further, even with the declines, the media industry remains profitable—though not in the strata it once was.
Of course, as it is in politics, the truth is often a matter of perspective. Anyone laid off or fired will of course have a caustic impression of what they've just left. So will the people who remained behind to watch them go.
A new era with a better attitude
And I realize there are those who lament the disappearance of the old ways, where a reporter could waste a day holding forth in a bar somewhere in the name of working the street, spending two hours a morning flipping through newspapers, or refusing to attend "bullshit assignments" because they don’t happen to fit their own personal definition of journalism.
Thankfully, there is no longer room for that, or the pouting, cynical pessimist because the luxury of being able to exercise those characteristics has been spent.
I see excellent journalism being practised today at all levels in Canada, with more precision and transparency than when I first began in 1978. The only problem is that there isn’t enough of it, because of news staff cuts.
Part of this comes from better training, the use of new tools enabled by technologies, and yes, I’d argue, better attitudes. We’re graduating largely optimistic people today, resulting from an array of factors that come more from within, than without. But that’s for another column.
So it’s time for the cynics—and the parents—to take it down a notch, and understand there are non-legacy jobs being created that weren’t there just a year or two ago, from Vice Canada to the Buzzfeeds to the free daily Metros, not to mention all of the tablet-based and other digital projects the legacy media is working hard on to unveil.
There will be more to come and any digital play that wants to offer original news and feature content, will need people with the skills journalists possess.
Joe Banks is the co-ordinator of and professor in the Algonquin College Journalism program, in Ottawa, and has been a working journalist, editor and publisher for 36 years. He writes the Media Musings column for J-Source.
Republished with permission from J-Source.ca.
by Aeman Ansari
Jeffrey Sze is a third-year student in the University of Toronto Scarborough and Centennial College’s joint journalism program. Batoul Hreiche is a fourth-year journalism student at Carleton University. Kaitlyn Smith is a second-year student in the University of Toronto Scarborough and Centennial College’s joint journalism program.
J-Source: Is your school diverse? This question applies to the student body and the faculty.
Hreiche: My j-school’s student body and faculty is not as diverse as one would hope. There are very few people who are culturally and ethnically different. I’d also like to point out that I’m double-majoring in law, and I see much more diversity in their student body, as well as their faculty, than I do in journalism.
Sze: I feel like my student body is composed of a diverse body of people from different countries and backgrounds. In terms of faculty, it’s not as diverse.
Smith: I think a lot of the problems with diversity and its total lack of proportion in the journalism field and j-schools is the restrictive, suffocating model of education in Ontario. My first year at university I remember the pressure to conform, so much so that I didn’t think it was worth it to finish my degree.
But last semester I was taught by a biracial, female professor — Dr. Minelle Mahtani — who rejected the university’s original method of teaching (she literally saved my journalism career). She focused the classroom on thinking outside of the box. I think this is a great way to start approaching the ideas of diversity.
Additionally, just because there is a multicultural environment in Canada doesn't mean ignorance automatically vanishes. I’ve found that many Canadians are very closed minded, and I am astounded at the way people confuse tolerance for ignorance.
Hreiche: I believe a lack of diversity exists because the journalism industry is primarily perceived as a “white” field. And people who may come from a misrepresented cultural or ethnic background tend to hold a negative view of the industry. So people generally do not want to engage in journalism.
J-Source: Batoul, why do you think the law program might be more diverse?
Hreiche: From my experience double-majoring, I believe the law industry is evolving quicker than journalism is. A lot of my friends who have completed law school told me that there is a diverse population in their field. And I’ve noticed that while searching for lawyers or legal experts to interview for certain articles.
J-Source: If there is a lack of diversity in your school’s faculty, why do you think it exists?
Sze: For me, in terms of faculty, I feel like it isn’t as diverse because of the media landscape in the past. The professors here are people who have had experience in the industry. It’s a reflection of the media landscape in the past. I think that as we move forward, maybe in the next 15 years, we might see a change.
Breaking into the Industry as a 'Diverse' Face
J-Source: Have you faced any challenges because of this lack of diversity in the industry?
Hreiche: Sometimes, I feel the opposite. I feel that looking different makes me stand out — in a good way. My experience as one of the two hijab-wearing students in the journalism program made me realize how being different was actually a powerful tool.
I just completed a two-week internship with the CBC, and I was lucky enough to get three on-camera opportunities. I received so many heartwarming comments from people who are not used to seeing diversity on mainstream media, and not all the people who reached out to me were Muslim or Arab!
Sze: I don't think I have faced challenges in this industry. I feel like the opportunities that I was able to get in journalism was not because of my background but rather my skill set.
J-Source: What do you think might be some ways to increase diversity moving forward?
Sze: I feel that having diversity in the field is definitely a great thing to have, but at the same time, I don't feel that the nature of one person's reporting should be based upon who they are. I feel like a journalist's skill set should be looked upon more than their background, colour or gender.
J-Source: Do you think the onus is on individuals who are part of a marginalized group and identify as such to bring these issues to the forefront in their schools or in the workplace?
Hreiche: For starters, this idea needs to be implemented in the educational system, and not only in journalism programs. In the end, journalism serves every profession, so emphasis needs to be placed in all educational areas. Also, I believe another one of our key starting points is for media institutions to realize how a diverse newsroom would alter their coverage on certain topics — in a profoundly good way. They need to realize that diversity fosters new discussions in a newsroom.
Tackling the Diversity Issue
J-Source: As young journalists in the field, how do you see this lack of diversity manifesting in the quality of Canadian journalism?
Hreiche: I believe it's a two-way solution. Firstly, the media's power over public knowledge and education cannot be underestimated. So those that are already involved in the field need to shed some light. However, from my experiences thus far, I believe marginalized communities hold themselves back. They believe that since there aren't many of them out there, they can't make social change.
When I was accepted into the journalism program, those around me told me that I would not succeed because my background is Arab and Muslim, and I wear the hijab. When I started, I realized they’re right — there aren’t enough of us out here —but I came to the conclusion that if people hold themselves back from engaging and breaking misconceptions, then the world will never evolve. So it also starts with us.
Smith: I agree with Batoul, but we also need to address the back-pedalling of news media and media itself, as well as conservative backlash that many diverse news organizations, and the people they cater to, receive.
Pertaining to the question Aeman mentioned earlier, I see a lack of diversity and equal coverage in foreign reporting. There is a standard of foreign reporting that I have found creates villains out immigrants. We have very little interest in going straight to the source. This definitely takes away from really great stories and causes our audiences to focus on the wrong ones.
Sze: I think touching on the point I made earlier, we're going to be seeing a change in this industry, where diversity would be reflected, and I guess this would be an optimistic assumption. Judging based on the diversity that's here at my school right now I feel like diversity will soon be reflected in Canadian journalism.
J-Source: How do you plan on tackling this issue of diversity in the media when you are actively engaged in the field? If you decide to, what are practical ways in which you would do so?
Sze: I don’t know about the term “tackling” the issue. But I think with the issue of diversity in media, I will try to be more aware with the stories I work on, the historical and social contexts that are behind the issue.
Smith: I just wanted to touch on Sze’s last point. Sorry for being so slow, but, Jeff, I may be a little more cynical than you. I don't see the trend of a more diverse community in the future.
Perhaps it's because I'm still listed at the university level of journalism, but from what I can see, unless we actively do something, I feel that we’re starting to fall back into the dark ages.
Women in the news media still earn less than men for the same work. “Visible” minorities are still considered “quota filling” burdens. Just because we see more diverse cultures being addressed and hired as broadcasters, doesn’t mean it’s fixing the problem of diversity or lack of it in journalism.
Hreiche: When I’m actively engaged in the field, I dream of facilitating the process of diversifying the newsroom. While a diverse newsroom will not be created overnight, the change must be active.
So, for starters, I’d like to report on Canada’s lack of diversity in the industry because I feel it doesn’t receive much attention. I’m positive society realizes this already, but with more attention, if there are people who are afraid or nervous to break out of their shell because they so happen to be from a different cultural, ethnic, or religious background, a further spotlight on the issue may help push them forward.
Re-published with permission from J-Source.ca
by Dan Rowe in Toronto
“There was a desire to be inclusive,” wrote Don Heider in the conclusion to his 2000 monograph White News: Why Local News Programs Don’t Cover People of Color, “but no way in which that desire was put into operation in day-to-day news practice. Hegemony is evident in the practice of news decision-making that continually reinforces values and norms held by White managers who have no stake in radical change.”
Heider was writing about TV stations he studied in Albuquerque and Honolulu before the turn of the century, but his observations reflect many people’s experience of media in this country 15 years later.
In a recent appearance on Jesse Brown’s Canadaland podcast, newly installed Walrus editor Jonathan Kay discussed with Brown the homogeneity of the people writing for that magazine (and other mainstream outlets) in the country. Most of the young writers he meets, Kay said, are “people who grew up in privileged households.” The typical pattern, he added, is that writing is something young people do on their way to law school.
Kay or anyone else in a management position who just throws up his hands when confronted with the diversity conundrum should come visit the Etobicoke college campus where I teach—or just about any other journalism school in the country.
Canada’s journalism schools, not to mention independent campus newspapers and radio stations, are filled with people from almost every imaginable background—people trying to enter a field where job opportunities seem to be dwindling and salaries are stagnating. This is not because they don’t understand the situation but because they are passionate about what journalism, at its best, can and should do.
There is no reliable data specific to Canada that I’m aware of to support or refute this—there doesn’t seem to be much after former Ryerson professor John Miller’s Diversity Watch project which hasn’t been updated in 10 years—but a perception exists that there is a disparity in who gets jobs. “Journalism schools are pumping out so many visible minorities and plenty of women, and they do not get jobs the way white kids do,” Hazlitt managing editor Scaachi Koul was quoted by J-Source as saying at a recent Massey College Press Club event in Toronto on the generational gap in Canadian journalism.
Meanwhile, Amber Gero, a radio reporter who was laid off from her job at CFRB 1010 last year, effectively made the same point in a mid-March interview on the Toronto Mike podcast. “I’d also like to see more Asian people, more native people, more Hispanic people. Where are they? They’re graduating every year from the media schools so don’t tell me they’re not there and ready to work,” Gero said. “It has to change from the top down.”
Koul and Gero are right. Change will require action on many levels, including journalism schools. Journalism educators need to spend more time ensuring that all students are better prepared for success with a clear-eyed understanding of the challenges they face when they enter the field. Journalism departments need to offer a more diverse faculty, guest speakers and even examples of good works of journalism discussed in class.
Faculty also need to continue to use our resources and job security to agitate for change and highlight the problem—particularly with empirical data and not just anecdotal accounts, such as this one. For decades, journalism professors in the U.S., led by David Weaver at Indiana University, have done extensive surveys of American journalists. Without anything comparable in scope in Canadian journalism, legitimate concerns about diversity in the workplace can be brushed aside with greater ease.
There needs to be more stories in this country like the one Ta-Nehisi Coates tells of David Carr. “In the February of 1996, I sent David Carr two poorly conceived college-newspaper articles and a chapbook of black-nationalist poetry,” Coates wrote of his time at the Washington City Paper in The Atlantic after Carr’s death earlier this year. “And David Carr hired me. I can’t even tell you what he saw.”
People in the position to hire and develop journalists need a more proactive approach than the one Kay exhibited in his interview with Brown, where he regretted the lack of diversity, but ultimately threw his hands up in the air. It was as though he—now the editor of a magazine and a longtime managing editor of the comment pages at a national newspaper prior to that—could not have played any greater role in opening up more opportunities for voices that are more reflective of Canada’s demographic makeup.
If Kay’s assertion that there are very few good essayists in the country is true, then why not use his position, resources and experience to develop new voices? Instead, when Brown asked Kay to name some people he would like to add to the Walrus’s roster, two of the three people he mentioned were Conrad Black and Rex Murphy—both of whom are exemplars of the status quo. (Not to mention bad writers.)
Kay’s comments are a perfect example of what Don Heider was writing about: someone who is not necessarily opposed to change but has no good reason, personally, professionally or politically, to act.
Dan Rowe is the bachelor of journalism program coordinator at Humber College in Toronto. He is also the book review editor of J-Source.
Re-published with permission from J-Source.ca
-- Canada's economic development minister Navdeep Bains at a Public Policy Forum economic summit