Commentary by George Abraham in Ottawa
IN the summer of 2015, a roomful of Ottawa folks got together at the National Arts Centre, eager to gain insights into the question, “What Stories Swing Votes?” The next federal election – the one that eventually ended Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s decade in power – were just around the corner, and up on the stage at this Canadian Journalism Foundation event were some of Canada’s best political pundits – Susan Delacourt, Frank Graves, Adam Radwanski, David Herle and Tom Clark.
I don’t recall much of what was said, except one particular expression Radwanski used. It has stayed with me ever since. He spoke of a “subterranean campaign” that would be waged in immigrant communities across Canada – presumably in foreign languages and in a vernacular that would be very different from appeals to the rest of Canada. He was predicting a different playbook in select ridings – a playbook that Radwanski assumed would be beyond his understanding.
Looking back, I suspect he was right: there indeed was a playbook that enabled the Liberals to win immigrant-rich ridings. It is widely believed that part of the Liberals’ victory in October 2015 came from immigrant communities switching their votes away from the Conservatives. The Liberals won the so-called “ethnic vote.”
However, Radwanski’s choice of expression has intrigued me ever since. The respected columnist writes for the Globe and Mail – a paper that I have consistently read ever since I set foot in Canada in 2002.
I know the paper to be resourceful, financially well-endowed and world class. As a reader, I see that it invests in its journalists, giving them generous travel budgets to report at great length from hotspots on every continent, but also giving its columnists lots of latitude. It is a great Canadian institution.
And so I was fascinated by the concept that a campaign could be “subterranean” when it dealt with massive, well-established communities, served by hundreds of ethnic media publications. Why did the Globe not already have a cadre of journalistic talent that would have helped it cover these “subterranean” communities just as it did all the other ridings in Canada? Why not use translators, when necessary, to make inroads into these sorts of communities?
Radwanski’s telling observation begged a larger question: Why is our journalism not as multicultural as the rest of society?
In the period since the October 2015 election, I have reframed my question to ask, Why are our journalists not as representative as our federal cabinet?
I would love to have been a fly on the wall as Prime Minister-Elect Justin Trudeau shared with the head of his transition team, Peter Harder, his thoughts on how he wanted to go about selecting cabinet ministers. Together they produced a masterpiece of Canadian diversity. How did they get it so right, without really inviting a backlash from those who have got so used to a monochromatic hegemony in all the levers of power?
More than one year on, I still have trouble reconciling to the fact that a turbaned Sikh immigrant is Canada’s Defence Minister.
I am not the first journalist in Canada to shine a light on the lack of diversity in Canadian journalism. A few years after I set up New Canadian Media, I had the honour of meeting John Miller, a former chair of Ryerson’s journalism school, somebody who made it his life’s mission to make newsrooms more representative, more reflective of their readership and viewership. Miller has researched the issue and written extensively on the topic, to little avail.
There are still spaces in Canada that media don’t understand and have made barely an effort to try to understand. The less charitable side of me thinks they’d simply label these spaces as “ghettos” and be done with them. I suspect there are newsroom managers who argue that these newcomer enclaves don’t see themselves as Canadian.
It is incumbent on our media to do better: our journalism must enable all Canadians to feel equally included.
Given that one in five Canadians born in another country and an equal number are the children of first-generation Canadians, the “immigrant” ethos is writ large. We’ve been adding 1 million new Canadians every four years. And, generally speaking, their ethnic profile tends to be different from that of earlier settlers – for the last three decades, the majority of our newcomers have come from Asia, nations such as China, India, Pakistan and the Philippines. Canada is changing right before our eyes.
In 2012, I took a tentative step toward blending my experience as a journalist in Asia into the Canadian milieu. By then, I was convinced that most newcomers and their children share a sense of dislocation, having moved to North America from regions that are racially and socio-politically very different from the origins of earlier arrivals. They have different mores, a different worldview and a different “lived experience.” They consume news differently and view the world through a different lens.
Interestingly, Canada has had a robust ethnic media sector for a very long time. Visit any grocery store in the suburbs outside the major cities and you will encounter scores of publications stacked in neat piles. A local radio station will play music from “back home,” and the newspapers will say very little about happenings in Canada.
This anecdote may be apocryphal, but a respected ethnic journalist recently told me about a Vancouver radio station that launches its broadcast with the words, “Good morning, Vancouver! The weather in Chandigarh is …”
Each of these publications covers a particular immigrant community, in a specific geographic region, often in a foreign language. Most ethnic media continue to be narrowly focused on issues concerning their communities.
They are staffed mainly by the hundreds of journalists who arrived in Canada wanting to continue in their profession, but find it hard to gain a foothold. About 200 of them have worked with New Canadian Media or participated in our training sessions. They possess experience and language skills that could perhaps help the mainstream media demystify their communities, but nobody has quite figured out a way to marry their talents with the current needs of newsrooms.
I would be the first to admit that not all journalists are created equal. Having lived in five countries, I know first hand that every nation has its own ways of doing journalism. I also know that ethnic and “mainstream” could not be further apart in their professional standards. It would be the rare ethnic journalist who has had the luxury of paying for a journalism degree in Canada.
Working for multicultural media is very different from working for, say, the Globe. The reporters often double up as advertising salespeople. Ethnic publishers roll from one financial crisis to another; scores of them go under every year, while others sprout in their place. The line between editorial and advertising is blurred.
These publications, though, remain a vibrant part of Canada’s media ecosystem and play a critical role in informing and welcoming new immigrants. They fulfill a vital democratic function – albeit an insufficient one.
We in the media need to do a better job of speaking for Canadians and being a mirror to society. This is a cliché, but readers, viewers and listeners want to see and hear themselves reflected in our newsrooms. They want to hear foreign-sounding accents and even a mangled English or French sentence once in a while.
Journalism is about reflecting the lives and times of all Canadians – in all their diversity, colour and socio-political complexity. Newcomers invariably do not fit into the preconceived notions of today’s mainstream media editors.
That’s why it is very important for newsroom managers to specifically empower journalists in our newsrooms from diverse backgrounds to speak up, not to be cowed by those who perhaps unwittingly crowd out more timid voices and offbeat perspectives. In short, let’s privilege diversity, rather than conformity.
As we imagine a new media landscape for future generations, I suggest a “third way” that enables Canada to become the first nation in the world to marry ethnic and mainstream – a true reflection of our unique demographics. Let’s recognize that our highly corporatized media organizations have lost touch and are excluding large segments of our population by continuing to hire candidates who could not possibly do justice to the worldviews or lived experiences of many communities, including immigrants.
I realize it will take more than a generation to achieve in the media what Trudeau has done with his cabinet. It will take more than resolve and window dressing. In the meanwhile, let’s find ways for the two media silos to work together, discover common ground, and, in the process, improve the coverage of communities that feel left out.
This commentary was first published in Policy Options and part of a special feature The Future of Canadian Journalism.
by Our National Correspondent in Ottawa
Lucile Davier, currently a post-doctoral fellow at the University of Ottawa, has spent many years looking at journalism that relies on translating from a foreign language. In a sense, her work examines the implications of reporters and editors working in multilingual settings. She has authored two studies, both of which looked at journalism in Switzerland, including stories leading up to the 2009 minaret ban in the central European nation.
New Canadian Media interviewed Davier by e-mail to better understand her findings and any lessons Canada can learn given its own multilingual-multicultural context.
Questions relating to The paradoxical invisibility of translation in the highly multilingual context of news agencies (2014)
1. Your study focused on two news agencies Agence France-Presse (AFP) and Agence télégraphique suisse (ATS) in Switzerland. Why did you choose these two news agencies?
I wanted to investigate multilingual news agencies based in Switzerland and their coverage of a Swiss political event. The Swiss bureaus of Associated Press (since 2009) and Reuters only produce news in English. This leaves us with two multilingual players: the global Agence France-Presse (AFP), which has a regional bureau in Geneva and produces information in French and English, and the national Agence télégraphique suisse (ats), which covers Switzerland in German, French and Italian, the three official languages of the country.
2. What would you say were your three main findings from this study?
To start with, I think it is important to clarify that these wire agencies are B2B services: they sell their stories to other media outlets, large companies and governmental offices. In other words, their stories are circulated very widely in the media.
First, I confirmed that translation is everywhere in news agencies: editorial meetings are multilingual, reporters deal with sources in a second language every day, most quotations are translated, etc.
Second, I showed that translation is hidden: it is never mentioned as such neither in the stories nor in the newsroom, and it is considered by the staff as simple and straightforward.
This combination of high multilingualism and invisibility of translation may distort the information. When they are not sure they have understood a source correctly, journalists (especially young ones) are afraid of asking colleagues because translation is supposed to be so easy. Moreover, their stories are not subjected to bilingual revision, so inaccurate translations can go past unnoticed. Eventually, journalists avoid sources in a second language as much as possible in order not to have to deal with translation.
3. What do you think are the implications from your findings? What do journalists who work in multilingual contexts need to know about translations in their reporting/editing? Is there something like "lost[to readers] in translation"?
There are important implications for the training of journalists in Switzerland, and possibly in other multilingual countries (I am currently conducting a similar study in Canada). I believe that the language proficiency of journalists should be enhanced during their education. Their translation skills should be developed as well: I am a translator myself, so I can tell that mastering a second language is not a sufficient condition to be able to translate.
I would like to help audiences read news from multilingual media or in a multilingual country with a critical eye. There is a loss in every translation, even good translations, because information gets lost, added and changed when it crosses linguistic and cultural barriers. If you read online news, try to be critical: for example, did the President of China speak in English? Or was his speech translated? By whom? By the Chinese government? By a news agency?
Questions relating to 'Cultural translation’ in news agencies? A plea to broaden the definition of translation (2015)
1. This study examined the role of culture in news translation, in the specific context of a debate in Switzerland (2007-10) over banning the building of Islamic minarets. What do you think were the 3 main findings?
Reporting about a foreign event for a local audience means crossing two borders: a language border and a cultural border. This study specifically looked at cultural borders. Given the time and space constraints newswire reporters face, these changes can be spotted in three textual phenomena.
The most common place for cultural information is background paragraphs. Background paragraphs are mostly situated at the end of a story and give general information about a region or a happening. My study showed that these paragraphs influence the way the readers understand the story. For instance, a paragraph saying that Muslims in Switzerland are “mainly from the Balkans and Turkey” may convey the idea for the readers that Muslims are foreigners.
Journalists also need to categorize sources for readers who are not familiar with them, for example to explain if a political party is left-wing or right-wing. In the case of foreign news in particular, these categorizations cannot include very detailed information and guide the reader towards a biased interpretation.
While reporting about a foreign event, journalists come to grips with culture-specific terms. They can either borrow a foreign reality and explain it (e.g., “the Federal Council – or Swiss government”), or substitute it with a word referring to a known reality (e.g., “the Cabinet”). Replacing a foreign notion altogether with a familiar concept may be easier to understand for the readers, but it also unfairly makes them believe that the notion is similar to what they know. For instance, using the word “referendum” in French refers to a rare political event in Canada and France. In Switzerland, however, a “votation” is a form of referendum but is organized at least four times a year, which is typical of a semi-direct democracy.
2. Do you think the debate over the minarets would have been different had reporters accounted for cultural factors in their reporting/translation of interviews?
This was not covered in the article under discussion, but is the subject of a broader research which will be reported in a book coming out this April. It will discuss how the representations journalists have of translation influence the choice of their sources. To cut a long story short, journalists have negative conceptions of translation: they find it dull and tedious, so they try to avoid it whenever they can. As a result, they unconsciously favour sources able to speak their native language. For instance, French-speaking reporters quoted a disproportionate number of French-speaking Muslim representatives, who traditionally hold more radical views of Islam than their German-speaking counterparts. Had they translated more, they would have given a voice to more moderate visions of Islam in the country. Who knows, it may have made Swiss voters more empathetic towards the Muslim population.
3. What do you think are the implications of this study for journalists working in multicultural contexts like Canada?
Cultural explanations may look more important than “linguistic” translation, but I believe both phenomena are just two sides of the same medal. My study showed that news agency journalists tend to copy and paste the same explanations about an event from one news item to the next one, which can reinforce cultural prejudices. However, if reporters integrate new background information from time to time (let’s be realistic…) by translating it from other stories (from other language communities or regions), they may introduce new points of view and widen the mindsets of their audiences.
Readers could also learn to be more critical about the concise background information they are given in a news report. When you come across cultural explanations, you can try to figure out what information was included or left out given the time and space limitations the journalists need to work with. Could this explanation be a caricature of a more complex reality? Where could you find more detailed background information?
Lucile Davier is a post-doctoral fellow at the University of Ottawa and a lecturer at the University of Geneva (Switzerland). In 2013, she earned a joint doctoral degree in translation studies and communication studies from the University of Geneva and the University Sorbonne Nouvelle (France). During the academic year 2012-2013, she was a visiting scholar at the University of Leuven (Belgium). Her research interests include news translation, convergent journalism and ethnography of translation/journalism. She has also freelanced as a professional translator (language combination: FR-DE-EN-ES) since 2006. Davier can be reached at LDavier@uottawa.ca
by Amanda Ghazale Aziz in Toronto
When Carleton University asked reporter Judy Trinh to give a talk on diversity in the journalism industry to students in the journalism and communications program, she said yes.
She suspected why the university had asked her: She works full-time for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC), and she’s not white. Even with some reservations, she took the speaking opportunity with a plan in mind.
Up to this point, high schools had been her regular venues to give lectures about journalism. When these schools had asked her to present on diversity, it was always about women in journalism, not race. Carleton’s request was a first.
Carleton’s invitation was an opportunity for Trinh to encourage racialized students to pursue a career in journalism. She truly believed that diverse representation in newsrooms matters, and the first step would be to start an honest discussion on race and the Canadian newsroom. If these students were going to build a meaningful career in media, then they would have to know the full truth.
In a visual slideshow presentation, Trinh presented a comparison of statistics from a study in the Columbia Journalism Review: 49 per cent of minority journalism graduates find a job in journalism, compared to 66 per cent of white journalism graduates. This is the reality for Black, Indigenous and people of colour (lumped into one vague group as “minorities”) who want to break in this industry in the U.S.
A now infamous Laval University study in 2000 had found that 97 per cent of journalists at that time were white. For Trinh, the lack of in-depth reporting on non-white cultures was the sad consequence of the statistic.
“In terms of access, in terms of building trust,” said Trinh. “If you have visible minorities in your newsroom, those ties are stronger.
“When you don’t have those ties, it’s much more difficult to get into those communities and cover them, because there is always a sense of distrust as an outsider.”
Gaining access to racialized communities and reporting on their cultures in more depth are two of many reasons that Trinh thinks that newsroom should be trying to diversify more. A white journalist could conduct thorough research for a piece on a racialized culture and community but there would still be missed nuances.
Even despite these obvious advantages, the statistics suggest that employers still don’t get it. Recently, the CBC came under fire from CANADALAND for not abiding by the Multiculturalism Act’s guidelines on equal opportunity employment for racialized folks. According to the report, a staggering 90–93 per cent of CBC staff were white whereas according to Statistics Canada only around 75 percent of Canadians are white. What’s unsettling in this report is the possibility that employers aren’t compelled to address their discriminatory hiring practices.
Currently, the Multiculturalism Act, along with the Employment Equity Act, is the driving government legislation when it comes to ensuring diverse representation in the newsroom — and the act only applies to newsrooms that are publicly funded. Even then, the act isn’t so heavily implemented as it should be, nor is it fit to match our racial climate today.
The act was written in an era that believed it had achieved a post-racial society. Pierre Trudeau introduced the idea of a Multiculturalism Act in 1971, and Brian Mulroney ratified it a decade later.
Today, however, one in five Canadians identify as a visible minority and we aren’t embracing multiculturalism as much as we think we are. A recent poll by the CBC and Angus Reid shows that 68 per cent of Canadians believe “minorities should do more to fit in with mainstream American/Canadian society,” indicating access to diverse media representation is lacking.
And the Multiculturalism Act itself hasn’t been as accessible as it should be. The language of the act itself is dependent on a dated sense of what equality is, which gives the idea that the act is one size fits all for everyone:
“3 (1) It is hereby declared to be the policy of the Government of Canada to (e) ensure that all individuals receive equal treatment and equal protection under the law, while respecting and valuing their diversity;”
Yasmin Jiwani, a communications studies professor at Concordia University, has been researching the relationship between policy and media over the last few years. In a project with other researchers, Jiwani carefully looked at how Indigenous youth and Muslim youth were portrayed in a three-year time frame at The Globe and Mail. They saw that stories on these groups typically fit narratives such as either “Youth in Trouble” or “Youth as Trouble”, while non-Indigenous and non-Muslim youth were often portrayed as overachievers and young entrepreneurs.
“What my research has shown,” said Jiwani, “is that when we do see people of colour in the media we only see them as ‘problem people’—people who are criminals, people who are taking advantage of Canadian benevolence, or people who are out in war zones.”
“If you are a policy-maker, who most likely doesn’t always encounter folks who are marginalized, what does the press tell you? It tells you that these are ‘problem people’ and they don’t belong in our nation.”
Canada likes to hail itself as a multicultural mosaic. And with Donald Trump’s win in the U.S. election early this November, many citizens have been taking the opportunity celebrate Canada’s apparent superiority—forgetting that the country is rampant with its own problems.
After Trump’s victory, Kellie Leitch—who is currently running to be the leader of Canada’s Conservative Party—sent out a mass email calling Trump’s victory an “exciting message that needs to be delivered in Canada as well.”
Before the 2016 U.S. election, she’d already announced plans for tougher screening processes for immigrants and refugees and was promoting the Conservative Party’s idea of creating a “barbaric cultural practices” tipline for the RCMP, which she later said she regretted.
You don’t have to look far online or in print to notice that we’ve fallen short of our nation’s ideal of equality and multiculturalism. Is Canadian journalism today operating under an act that depicts not only an aged view, but one that is unrealistic in its depiction of what multiculturalism is? It’s unclear how employers are required to fulfill their obligations under the Multiculturalism Act and the Employment Equity Act in their workplaces.
Shree Paradkar said it best in her Toronto Star column: “Non-representation in journalism is a form of oppression. It happens when we—Canadians—invite or accept newcomers to our mutual benefit, but then allow only one dominant group—whites—to play gatekeeper to all the stories, generation after generation. Indigenous people, too, are not exempt from exclusion.”
Equally, there is anxiety about newsrooms using racialized writers as tokens instead of addressing changing their overall hiring practices. Jiwani said she is concerned about the trend of news organizations hiring racialized writers to report exclusively on diversity. She calls these token writers “race ambassadors.”
Denise Balkissoon, currently the editor of the life section at The Globe and Mail, recalls that early in her career pitches concerning race and diversity were often shut down. Now she sees the opposite happening. Emerging journalists are being offered the chance to write on these topics. The dilemma, though, is that the opportunity doesn’t extend beyond that assignment.
“Usually a young journalist of colour will get tapped to write a sensationalist story and that story will turn out great,” Balkissoon said. “But then that journalist doesn’t get hired as a staff writer or nurtured to be a well-rounded writer.”
“People have figured out,” added Balkissoon, “that diversity is relevant at a time when there’s no money dedicated to hiring anyone.”
Along with being an editor, and writing a column, Balkissoon is the co-host (with Hannah Sung) of the Colour Code podcast. Colour Code was first conceived after The Globe and Mailgave workers the opportunity to apply for a special projects fund.
The idea for the podcast was originally about Canadian identity but shifted to focusing on race and Canada. “Our goal was not to prove that racism exists,” said Balkissoon, “but that it was already assumed.”
There were already plenty of American podcasts out there on race, and Balkissoon and Sung wanted to do something just as “meaningful and hard-hitting.”
While some white listeners reached out to Balkissoon and Sung to thank them for helping them learn and to re-examine their privilege, others sent hate mail—especially when the show tackled difficult topics. A particularly large amount of hate mail followed the episode “Eggshells,” in which Balkissoon revisits a heated discussion she had on assimilation at CKNW, a radio show in Vancouver. That backlash inspired her column piece, “We all profit from soldiers on the front lines of hate.”
Readers also have responsibility over what they want to get out of a newspaper since they choose what content and publications they read. Balkissoon insists that people who are interested in good journalism should also not hesitate to “tell the people who run it that diversity is important to them.”
She also sees that importance being reflected on their financial contribution, and how it’s contingent on progressing journalism. After starting the crowdfunded digital magazine The Ethnic Aisle with a group of friends, she was surprised over how many people responded with interest to an online publication solely focused on race and ethnicity.
“[The Ethnic Aisle] was envisioned as a side-conversation,” said Balkissoon, “because when I had first joined Twitter I found myself getting into conversations about race in a way I had never before. And then it also became a way for younger journalists to get practice in pitching and to get practice in editing.”
Beyond small publications, spaces for young and racialized journalists to flourish can be hard to find.
Second-year journalism student Andrew (whose name has been changed to protect his identity) finds himself completely alone in the concentration of his program as the only person who identifies as Black.
When he considered going into radio, he was cautioned by the program staff about how the medium was “unbearably white.” His instructors had another recommendation. “They asked me, why would you want to stay here? Toronto has a bigger market—which I kind of get,” he said.
“But it was as if they had wanted me to be the lone Black reporter for a while and then leave for a larger city. The question is, are they really making an effort to attract people to the East coast to work here? Or are they looking for what’s good ‘locally?’ As in hiring what locals want, as they aren’t interested in seeing people of colour in the media.”
As he carries on with his studies, Andrew still plans to continue airing out concerns to his school’s faculty. These are discussions that are frank, he adds, but necessary.
It’s becoming more and more obvious to the public that, in attempts to address this issue, racialized folks are finding a way to speak out. For the last issue of The Ryerson Review of Journalism, the masthead chose diversity as its main focus. Every single article inside the print issue was dedicated to that theme. “Because it’s 2016” was plastered in bold text on the front cover.
And while the year is nearing its end, the discussion is far from over.
Amanda Ghazale Aziz is a student at the University ofToronto, and is a senior editor at the Intersections: The Clapback Journal and associate editor at Acta Victoriana. In 2014-2015, she was one of the Editors-in-Chiefs atThe Strand, and has also contributed to The Varsity, CWA’s Media Works Guide as well as with other publications. Sometimes, she writes on napkins before using them. You can find her as a part of Badass Muslimah's upcoming podcast and as a member of Femifesto.ca.
by Our National Correspondent
July 30 marked the 11th anniversary of the Patriotic Vanguard newspaper published from Vancouver. In our continuing effort to profile and work with ethnic media across Canada, New Canadian Media conducted an interview by e-mail with the paper's founder and chief executive officer, Gibril Gbanabome Koroma, a Sierra Leonean journalist in exile. Koroma is pictured at right, in front of the Vancouver Public Library.
This content was developed exclusively for New Canadian Media and can be re-published with appropriate attribution. For syndication rights, please write to email@example.com
Commentary by Israr A. Kasana in Calgary
I was confident I was not being naïve or a ninnyhammer when I decided to relocate as a family to North America yet again, this time to Canada. That was a year ago.
I had a Master’s degree, lots of national and international journalistic experience – both print and electronic – including 10 years in the U.S. This whole package gave me confidence and optimism about finding success from my Canadian expedition. [See picture with current Democratic Presidential contender and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, in New York, below]
It wasn’t that I was desperate to leave Pakistan. I was very well-placed there, working a dream job as an anchor and executive editor on the largest TV network of Pakistan called PTV. I had more than 5,000 television airtime hours to my credit and was the anchor on a branded, peak-time show called “Dialogue with Israr Kasana” thrice a week.
And, by the way, I was making good money too, even by the Canadian standards.
I didn’t migrate here because I thought Canada was ‘cool’ for its poutine, insulin, wonky gravity in some areas of Canada, especially in Hudson Bay where you actually weigh less than your normal weight, or that the tap water was drinkable. Or, even because Santa Claus was Canadian, or that the Canadian government has direct toll-free lines for the public to seek answers to questions they have, or their consumption of Kraft Dinner (KD), or the trick-or-treating at Halloween.
They are all admittedly as Canadian as the maple leaf, but these were not what prompted my decision.
My family and I were attracted by the values and characteristics for which Canada is known for all over the world – the multiculturalism, open and friendly society, relatively free of class distinctions, better work-life balance, less income disparity, higher social mobility, security and safety, and, finally, more paid holidays than the U.S.
I also made this decision because Canada was more immigrant-friendly than many countries. I knew Canada receives more immigrants per capita than the U.S. The economy, I gathered, was not bad either and assumed I’d be able to make a good living.
And look what happened when we arrived in Calgary? Everything went topsy-turvy. Alberta had just been hit by yet another oil shock, with lay-offs galore. Lots of unrelated jobs were lost, too, and the whole economic cycle was almost at a standstill.
A well-wisher told me to contact different agencies who help immigrants settle into Canada. I got myself registered with a couple of them, participated in their programs, but I was really disappointed by the services they offered. They were slow and least productive. One agency took six months to teach me how to write a resume and another six months for a cover letter.
When would I get a job? Their answer, obviously: “It’s not our job to get you a job”.
Flummoxed, yet composed, I started sending out resumes for different jobs and kept a close eye on my e-mail account, waiting for a job interview, which so far has remained a dream. Instead, I have received lots of carefully and artfully worded ‘Thank You’ letters, which more or less go like this: “After careful review and consideration, in the context of our current needs and requirements, we have decided to continue employment discussions with other candidates. We encourage you, however, to continue taking an active role in your job search.”
That put me in a decidedly awkward situation. I came to realize I had put myself and my family in a perilous situation. A friend came over and was worried to see me struggle like this. He said, ‘You will not get a job unless you have “Canadian experience”.’ “What is that,” I asked.
Chasing ‘Canadian experience’
“You have to have job experience with some Canadian company,” he replied. “But I have 10 years of American experience, isn’t that enough?” I retorted.
He said, “No, my friend, you got to have some Canadian experience.” That sounded weird to me. And, this in a city that has a mayor, Naheed Nenshi, who speaks up for immigrants and has repeatedly said, “We’re all in it together. Our neighbour’s pain is our pain, our neighbour’s success is our success, our neighbour’s failure is our failure.”
Ok, I thought, now I would try to get the Canadian experience I lacked. By the way what else was I trying to achieve earlier; wasn’t it aimed at getting Canadian experience too?
I decided to adopt another strategy. I tried to contact my fellow journalists from print and electronic media. But every one of them shied away, saying they couldn’t help me because of my lack of “Canadian Experience” and economic conditions in the media industry.
The print media in Calgary, I found out, is facing a moribund situation. It has become a threatened species and faces possible extinction. This brought to mind the website “Newspaper Death Watch” which tracks the demise of newspapers.
So, the million dollar question in my mind is, How was I going to get this “Canadian experience” if I never landed a job? Obviously, I can’t buy it from somewhere. Someone has to give me a job – small or big.
I don’t know when that will happen, but I do know that there are umpteen new immigrants who roam around, looking for jobs and finding nothing. And trust me they are all very educated, skilled and well-trained people, many of them held enviable positions in the countries they came from.
This situation demands a fresh and thorough re-evaluation of immigration policies before we admit more than 300,000 permanent residents in Canada during 2016. We should plan ahead and provide skilled workers with better opportunities, without waiting for years to attain “Canadian Experience.”
This is important to save them and their families from depression and anxiety, which are not a good omen for society either.
Israr A. Kasana is an award-winning writer, TV host and a communications professional based in Calgary. His work has been published in English newspapers The Frontier Post and The News in Pakistan. He started his own newspaper The Vision International in New York and also launched a community TV channel.
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.
by Beatrice Paez in Toronto
Journalists can pay a high price with their reputations for reporting on the polarizing, decades-old Israel-Gaza conflict.
As the platforms for gathering news become more sophisticated in delivering customized information to readers, there’s a risk of readers insulating themselves from divergent views, said Olivia Ward, the Toronto Star’s foreign affairs reporter, who moderated the talk hosted by Poets, Essayists and Novelists (PEN) Canada.
Blumenthal’s critics have accused him of disseminating propaganda through his reporting on Gaza.
PEN stood its ground against calls to cancel the event, citing its efforts to defend free speech.
“There are hard questions that require a great deal of debate, and it isn’t always polite,” says Randy Boyagoda, president of PEN Canada. “We fight for the right to make it possible.”
Embattled Truths was a discussion of Blumenthal’s critique of mainstream media, the challenges of covering the Gaza Strip and his own privileges as an American Jew from an upper-middle class family with ties to the Clintons.
Anticipating heated confrontations between Blumenthal and his critics, a modest police presence was on standby to rein in on any disruptions from the crowd. Interruptions —from both the pro-Israel lobby, including members of the Jewish Defense League, and Blumenthal's own defenders — staggered his exchange with Ward and the question-and-answer session with the audience.
There were repeated calls to boot individuals from opposing sides as Blumenthal’s detractors challenged his view of Israel as an aggressor and his assertion that what was happening between Israel and Palestine was “a conquest, not a conflict.” His critics — who came with placards showing the photo of a jihadi with the words, “This is not a victim” — questioned why he was not reporting about terror attacks against Israelis as well.
For Blumenthal, there’s no avoiding bias — even as journalists — in the coverage of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
“The way I see my journalism on this issue is, I’m involved in a campaign,” he said. “Information on this issue is very difficult to obtain. There isn’t much of a counter-narrative, and the Palestinian narrative, which I have found to be closer to reality, is frozen out.”
A self-described advocacy journalist, he defends his embattled credibility on the basis that his reporting is grounded in facts.
“I rise and fall on whether I’m presenting facts,” he said. “[People] spend so much time trying to characterize my views as slander or slurs, instead of actually addressing the facts of my book.”
Blumenthal’s recently released book, the 51 Day War: Ruin and Resistance in Gaza, is a first-hand examination of the military conflict in Gaza in 2014, or as the Israeli Defense Force calls it, “Operation Protective Edge.”
Efforts to undermine his work by framing him an anti-Semite, he said, cheapen its meaning, making it difficult to condemn real acts of anti-Semitism when it surfaces.
When asked about the challenges of reporting on Gaza, Blumenthal said it goes beyond the financial obstacles newsrooms face and personal risks journalists are willing to take.
Asked by Ward about whether the fact that journalists have had to chase “moving targets” as news breaks elsewhere and parachute into other conflict zones was a factor, Blumenthal said he’s not beholden to the 24-hour news cycle, which allows him to probe the issue further.
His focus on gaining unfettered access to Gaza and covering the conflict in 2014 from inside, he said, provides a counterweight to what he characterizes as a cultural problem that newsrooms face when reporters are more immersed in Israel and are prone to “absorb the anxieties of the people they’re around, which is often the Jewish-Anglo community.”
Ward noted that his stature plays a considerable role in amplifying his voice, whereas Palestinians may have more difficulty getting heard.
Blumenthal agreed that his background has made his writing difficult to ignore, with the pro-Israel lobby trying to make “an example of him” to young Jews who might decide to follow his lead.
While accounts of personal narratives from the Palestinian side are chronicled, what’s rare is an overarching analysis from them, said Blumenthal. “The narration usually falls more to people like me.
“Palestinians who seek to do what I’m doing can easily be painted as terrorists, Islamists or ignored because they’re [seen as] simply being loyal to their people,” he said.
Then there’s the struggle faced by young Palestinian writers who have never seen the world beyond Gaza.
“[They’re asking] how can we write for the people in the West to explain our experiences because we have never left Gaza?” said Blumenthal. “You’re wondering what the outside world is like.”
by Danica Samuel in Toronto
News outlets that report on Canada’s ethnic communities and other niche media sources are standing out more than ever, while mainstream media companies are taking a hard hit.
“Niche reporting has somewhat found a way to make the business model work,” explains April Lindgren, professor at Ryerson University’s school of journalism. “We don’t know how successful it will be overtime, but that’s one area that is successful and it’s one area where newcomers, especially, are able to survive.”
She says the mainstream media business model is heavily influenced by technological change and that because ethnic and niche media outlets aren’t reporting the same things as the mainstream, it is easier for them to co-exist.
“When you’re smaller to begin with and when you’re niche, you might better weather the storm,” says Marci Ien of CTV Canada AM, a division of Bell Media.
The future of journalism in Canada
In November 2015, Bell Media cut 380 jobs from its operations, including national broadcaster CTV, while in January another major broadcast competitor, Rogers Media, announced 200 job cuts were on the way.
Print media has also been impacted across the country.
The Guelph Mercury daily newspaper announced it would stop publishing its print editions, impacting 23 full-time and three part-time jobs.
Postmedia announced 90 job cuts will result from a move to merge newsrooms in Vancouver, Calgary, Edmonton and Ottawa and reduce $80 million in expenses.
Torstar, the company that owns Canada’s largest circulation newspaper, The Toronto Star, announced last month that it will be laying off more than 300 production and editorial employees.
In Halifax, Canada’s oldest independently owned newspaper, The Herald, stated it wanted to lay off up to 18 workers to cope with economic challenges.
These job cuts came off the heels of the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) being warned that half of the country’s local TV stations could be off the air by 2020 without a boost in revenues to pay for local programming.
These job cuts have left many media professionals and observers worried about the future of journalism in Canada.
Lindgren says the business model of journalism is completely broken.
“The internet came in and disrupted the news business to such a great extent, that more traditional news organizations are failing and the industry and people in the news have yet to figure out a replacement model.”
For niche media, however, this may not be the case.
Chelby Daigle, editor-in-chief at Muslim Link, an online community newspaper based in Ottawa, says that niche media outlets can now utilize the Internet as a “hub of information.”
“We tell stories, but our approach is different. We also have event listings, a directory, and advertisements; so there’s reasons why traffic comes to our site. It’s a resource.”
The revolution of journalism
Lindgren is confident that the changes in journalism stem from how we consume news. She calls it a “revolution.”
“The Internet killed the classified ad sections of newspapers, and really broke the audiences for the newspaper sectors, magazines and television,” Lindgren emphasizes. “Readers’ habits of where they go for news are changing.”
Lindgren adds: “All of this combined has mounted to a revolution in the news business, and with revolutions, often things get torn apart before new systems are invented to replace them.”
A part of this revolution is finding ways to tell stories and report on news differently.
“It’s the industry changing, but at the same time when things like that happen, I think there is opportunity, but you just have to do it in a different way,” says Ien.
The difference is what Daigle describes as cheaper, innovative and independent.
“We used to be a print newspaper and we stopped doing that. It’s too much work, craft and labour,” she says. “Online we have a better way of tracking our readership and who clicks on our ads.”
How niche and ethnic media stand out
Daigle says that while there are changes in the way people consume news, the most important aspect of niche media is that it should service the public.
Ethnic and niche media outlets cater to demographics that use their content as a resource to keep them close to their respective communities.
“They are anti-mainstream," says Ien. "They do the stories the way mainstream doesn’t and that’s what makes them successful. They found areas that maybe the mainstream isn’t touching on as much. They can carve out their own pieces of pie, do it well and service an audience that maybe isn’t being serviced that way.”
Like Daigle, Ien says that the stories being told by smaller community-oriented news outlets can often times heighten the content of mainstream media.
“It’s interesting because a lot of mainstream media follows us, and get story ideas from our content,” explains Daigle. “We made it easier for people to know about our community.”
Ien says she even brings some of these ethnic stories to the newsroom at CTV.
“There’s no way you can be in this country and not have had various people from different races touch your life.”
by Matt D’Amours in Montreal
It can be difficult for reporters to get information or comment from an organization for their reporting in general, but for immigrant journalists, language barriers and a lack of familiarity with public relations (PR) create unique challenges.
Chantal Francoeur, a journalism professor from the Université du Québec à Montréal (UQAM), gave a talk at Concordia University last week focusing on the PR-journalist dynamic, and the power held by PR professionals.
“When a real reporter wants access to an organization, there is just one entry, one person with whom the reporter can talk to: the PR professional,” Francoeur explains to a group gathered at Concordia’s Centre for Broadcasting and Journalism. “It’s the PR professional who holds the key that opens the door to an organization, and he or she acts as a gatekeeper and journalist watchdog.”
Navigating language barriers
For Jonathan Caragay-Cook, news editor at Concordia’s The Link newspaper, the PR doors may not open as easily as they do for other reporters. Cook arrived in Canada less than two years ago, and as an American of Filipino descent, he says that his inability to speak French often presents barriers when he reaches out to organizations in Quebec.
Last Fall, Cook reached out to an official from the Cégep du Vieux Montréal, a French-language college with a politically active student body. The official answered the phone in French, and Cook tried his best to string together a question using the limited words he knew. After a few seconds, the official told him that he couldn’t speak English and hung up.
“I then realized that I just wasn’t going to get that perspective in my story,” Cook recalls.
In other instances, Cook says that francophone PR professionals who do speak English have their prepared statements crafted in French, and are therefore wary of straying from their native tongue.
Gaining more access
Although Cook’s experiences in Quebec represent clear obstacles, other immigrant journalists like Rita Latif has had a different type of difficulty when dealing with the PR machine.
Latif, a Concordia University journalism student who arrived in Canada from Egypt in 2014, says that her biggest challenge has been adapting to the relative openness of corporations and institutions in Canada.
“In Egypt, trying to reach these people is not as easy as here … it’s not something we’re used to,” Latif explains. “For us, these [officials] are restricted.”
Latif says that she is still getting used to the notion that a journalist can simply perform a Google search and call a PR person or government official; she says it is hard to break out of her “safe zone.”
Mistaking press releases for advertising
This lack of familiarity with public relations among immigrant journalists was examined in a 2015 study by April Lindgren, founding director of the Ryerson Journalism Research Centre. Lindgren looked at the case of Brampton, Ontario, and how the municipality’s attempt to reach out to the city’s ethnic media was initially plagued with issues.
In 2007, Brampton’s communications department began distributing press releases to ethnic media outlets such as the Canadian Punjabi Post in an attempt to better reach out to the city’s immigrant population. According to Lindgren’s findings, however, this led to some confusion.
The study indicates that there was a lack of familiarity among ethnic outlets with this form of communication, and some newspapers simply published the releases in full. Others even sent the city a bill for advertising fees.
“Some new arrivals [to Canada] don’t understand the PR world,” Lindgren says. “These newspapers were not able to distinguish between a press release and an advertisement.”
In light of these difficulties, the city of Brampton made changes to their communications process, which included a plan to hire a “specialty media coordinator”, and to translate all media releases into French, Punjabi, Urdu and Portuguese.
Understanding the intention
While this type of outreach can be useful in acclimating immigrant journalists and ethnic media to Western-style public relations, Tom Henheffer, Executive Director of the Canadian Journalists for Free Expression, says sometimes there are other intentions at play. He points to former minister of national defence and multiculturalism, Jason Kenney, as an example.
“Kenney, under Stephen Harper, made a point of being in the ethnic press at every chance he could … they thought a small paper would be excited to be able to get someone high-up in government,” Henheffer says.
“But [Kenney] really infantilized them because ... it was an opportunity to speak to these guys and get a positive headline.”
Issue not often discussed
Speaking with New Canadian Media after her lecture on public relations, Francoeur says that different outlets will have unique perspectives on the challenges of dealing with PR professionals.
When asked if the issue of limited access for immigrant journalists has ever come up in her classroom, Francoeur says it has not, but that this shouldn’t be taken as a sign that the problem doesn’t exist.
“Our journalism programs are pretty homogenous ... and it doesn’t provide the whole, representative picture,” Francoeur explains.
“Student journalists already have difficulties reaching PR people. Do they have more difficulty because their name sounds different? I don’t know … and maybe I don’t know because we don’t have that many [immigrant students].”
-- Canada's economic development minister Navdeep Bains at a Public Policy Forum economic summit