New Canadian Media
Friday, 25 November 2016 14:34

A Less-than-Diverse Media Workforce

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.

This story was originally published on belaboured, and is publised under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International license.

Published in Arts & Culture

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. 

"[D]escribing it as a ‘flood’ of refugees isn’t okay when most people associate a flood with disaster."

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. 

Students become aware of different perspectives, which helps journalists “not to write from pre-conceived ideas or ignorance.”

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. 

[N]ews gathering should be more inclusive ... or else it runs the risk of stereotyping and misrepresenting.

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.


This content was developed exclusively for New Canadian Media and can be re-published with appropriate attribution. For syndication rights, please write to publisher@newcanadianmedia.ca

Published in Education

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.

Parents like programs that offer clear-cut paths to “solid careers”.

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 graduating from Canadian journalism schools, they are not necessarily the ones getting the jobs.

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.

“I think you have to turn that tokenism around and use it in your favour.”

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.

This content was developed exclusively for New Canadian Media and can be re-published with appropriate attribution. For syndication rights, please write to publisher@newcanadianmedia.ca

Published in Education

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