Who is a journalist?

Good discussion of the issues by Paul Adams:

It is hard enough deciding who is a journalist without delegating the decision to a judge in the midst of an election campaign — or for that matter the Parliamentary Press Gallery. Last week, a judge ordered that three men from two far-right outfits, Rebel Media and the True North Centre for Public Policy, be accredited as journalists to attend the party leaders’ debate. The judge has not yet given his reasons for the decision, but the Leaders Debates Commission reportedly argued in court that they should not be included because of their history of advocacy, which it argued precludes them from being accredited as journalists.

When you think of it historically, the idea that advocacy is inconsistent with journalism is a strange one. Historically, “advocacy” was no bar to being a journalist; in many cases it was its hallmark. Otherwise, what are we to make of Joseph Howe’s Novascotian, which excoriated the magistrates and police? Or George Brown’s Globe, which attacked slavery and Catholicism with equal vehemence? The motto that Brown chose and still adorns its successor, the Globe and Mail, presents a masterclass in journalistic passive aggressiveness: “The subject who is truly loyal to the Chief Magistrate will neither advise nor submit to arbitrary measures.”

In contrast, the model of journalism that many people, including many journalists, carry around in their heads nowadays, where concepts such as balance, fairness and objectivity reign, is primarily a 20th-century construct. It arose from a combination of circumstances, including the commercial pressures on newspapers in medium and small markets to appeal to readers across the political spectrum, the emergence of wire services catering to outlets of different political stripes, and the invention of broadcasting, which led to a combination of publicly owned and highly regulated privately owned broadcasters. It was also connected with the attempt to turn reporters, essentially a trade in the 19th century plied mainly by members of the educated working class, into a “profession,” supported by journalism schools, which were also a 20th– century phenomenon.

However, the earliest champions of press freedom, such as John Peter Zenger, who fought off a libel charge from the royal governor in the colony of New York in the 1730s (after languishing in jail for a time) were defending advocacy on the basis that it was truthful, even if defamatory. When James Madison composed his draft of the US Constitution’s First Amendment, he conceived of freedom of the press as part of a wider set of liberties such as freedom of speech and religion, which were obviously not bounded by standards of fairness or objectivity.

Photo: Parliamentary Press Gallery, Ottawa, 1914. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1244, Item 9066.

When you think of it, anyone can speak and anyone can have a religious viewpoint. The real difference between these rights and press freedom is that until very recently relatively few people had ready access to a printing press. In other words, the right to freedom of the press was always circumscribed by sheer logistics. Until roughly the dawn of the 21st century, one of the many differences between you and Conrad Black was that he had access to a printing press and you didn’t. (When Black re-entered the Canadian market in a big way about that time, by the way, he explicitly sought for the National Post to be a “crusading newspaper.”)

This logistical difference between the press and other forms of expressive liberty led to a media tradition that was in fact much narrower than the precepts espoused by Madison and Thomas Jefferson at the Constitutional Convention in 1787, which were then finally transposed into our own Charter of Rights and Freedoms in 1982. The modern media have always imposed limits on the spectrum of views they would tolerate.

If you look at the formal statements of major news organizations such as the CBC or the Globe and Mail, they are replete with boasts that they carry a diversity of views; but they say relatively little about the limits to that diversity. Yet you are unlikely to see a supporter of ISIS get a weekly column or even an occasional op-ed. And Rosemary Barton is not about to add a dash of spice to her weekly panel by, say, adding an alt-right figure such as Faith Goldy. This is true even though we know there are Canadians who hold such views.

The best explanation I have seen of the structure of permitted expression in the media was articulated by an American scholar, Daniel Hallin, at the time of the Vietnam war. Hallin described what he called “three spheres” in journalistic discourse. The first is the sphere of consensus. This includes topics on which the media take the view that consensus is so broad that no opposing view needs to be offered. So, journalists take for granted that slavery is bad, for example, and that democracy is preferable to dictatorship. They feel no need to offer “balance” or another point of view when touching on such topics.

The second is the sphere of legitimate controversy. In the current election campaign, this sphere would include the debate about the size of the deficit and the speed with which it should be addressed, the question of whether to adopt a national pharmacare plan, and whether to build a pipeline. In this sphere, reporters feel a responsibility to maintain neutrality, to “balance” their reports and to maintain a personal disinterest in the outcome of the debates they are reporting on. In this zone, columnists and editorial boards are free to weigh in with their views.

The third is the sphere of deviance. These are ideas such as those I described above, espoused by ISIS or neo-Nazis, which are considered outside the sphere of legitimate discourse, and might also include ideas that are regarded as laughable, ridiculous or simply unfounded. They might be covered as news events but the substance of their arguments is dismissed. Nowadays, this sphere can include people such as climate deniers and anti-vaxxers.

These last two examples point to an important feature of the spheres: that they are constantly in flux as a result of social and journalistic controversy. A decade ago, it was not unusual for a news story on climate change to go out of its way to quote what we now call a climate denier as a way to balance a story. Today it is unusual, and when it happens it is referred to as “false balance” in journalistic circles. Something similar is happening with the debate over vaccinations, with the anti-vaxxers well on their way to the sphere of deviance.

The reason that many people were so angry with the Globe and Mail when it afforded Ezra Levant the platform of its op-ed page early in the election campaign was that it appeared to move someone who was well on his way into the sphere of deviance back into the sphere of legitimate controversy.

Although from a libertarian perspective it is easy to criticize the imposition of the strictures of the three spheres as the arrogant pronouncements of a media (and perhaps corporate) elite, it is not hard to see how they play a cohesive role in our society. Most obviously, it is conducive to a peaceful, orderly, happy society that we don’t give platforms to those who question the full humanity of people of colour or of women or who advocate violence in the pursuit of their political aims.

That having been said, the ability of the mainstream media to police and arbitrate those spheres is now under radical attack in two ways. First of all, the internet has destroyed many of the barriers to entry into the media. You no longer need a printing press or a broadcasting tower to publish. You just need a WordPress account and a server somewhere. Any idiot can get on Twitter. (As you may have noticed, many do.)

Secondly — and this could be a related phenomenon — the sphere of consensus is breaking down in many Western countries. It might be too much to say that there is no longer a broad consensus, for example, that democracy is preferable to authoritarianism, but we have seen the emergence of Strongman-envy in the slaverings of Donald Trump and some of his supporters. A survey in the United States last year found that while 84 percent of seniors agreed that democracy is “always preferable” to other systems of government, that was true of only 55 percent of those aged 18-29. The erosion of a consensus about democracy appears to be happening in many Western countries and though there is disagreement about the degree to which this is happening in Canada, it would be foolish to assume we are immune.

Thus, at the same time as the media’s quasi-monopoly on the printing presses and their modern-day equivalents are eroding their ability to enforce ideas of consensus and deviance, the bulwarks of the old consensus are also under attack.

The issue of who is a journalist in this election campaign has mixed up two debates. The first is one about the guild privilege as exercised by the Parliamentary Press Gallery (and other similar organizations) to which the Debates Commission, like Parliament itself, had contracted out the responsibility to decide who could be accredited. This is where the would-be journalists from the Rebel and True North had their strongest case and on which, I am guessing, the judge decided the matter.

The Gallery, which is still dominated, though not as exclusively as it once was, by big traditional media, has spent the last two decades working through the thorny issues of who would get access to the hallowed halls of Parliament as waves of bloggers, start-up internet websites, quasi-lobbyists, hobbyists and, yes, advocacy groups clamoured for admittance to the club. This is an issue the Gallery has had to manage for logistical reasons if nothing else, and the politicians have been happy to let them do it rather than wading into the thorny issue of who is a journalist themselves.

But whatever you think of the Gallery’s attempt to negotiate these shoals, its guiding principle has not been a commitment to that popular contemporary image of journalism as free, open, balanced, objective news coverage. The “tell” could be that the current membership of the Gallery includes a correspondent from the TASS news agency, as it has done since the Soviet era, and also one from the People’s Daily, the official newspaper of the Communist Party of China.

The much more challenging debate than the one the Gallery, the debate commission and the judge are effectively squabbling over is whether there is still a degree of consensus in our society that makes it worthwhile trying to wall off a zone of legitimate controversy from those who would challenge fundamental values, for example, about democracy, race and gender; what the limits of that zone should be; and who should enforce them. And if we were to decide that such a zone is worth defending, would it even be possible in the age of the internet?

Source: Who is a journalist?

The consequences of ‘horse race’ reporting: What the research says

For those of us who are both fascinated and bored by horse race reporting, found this article and related analyses of interest:

When journalists covering elections focus primarily on who’s winning or losing — instead of on policy issues — voters, candidates and the news industry itself suffer, a growing body of research has found.

Media scholars have studied so-called “horse race” reporting for decades to better understand the impact of news stories that frame elections as a competitive game, relying heavily on public opinion polls and giving the most positive attention to frontrunners and underdogs who are gaining in popularity. It’s a common strategy for political coverage in the United States and other parts of the world.

Thomas E. Patterson, the Harvard Kennedy School’s Bradlee professor of government and the press, says election coverage often does not delve into policy issues — what candidates say they would do if elected. Policy issues accounted for 10% of news coverage of the 2016 general presidential election, according to an analysis Patterson did as part of a research series that looks at journalists’ work leading up to and during the election. The bulk of coverage that Patterson examined concentrated on who was winning and losing and why.

“The horserace has been the dominant theme of election news since the 1970s, when news organizations began to conduct their own election polls,” Patterson writes in a December 2016 working paper, “News Coverage of the 2016 General Election: How the Press Failed the Voters.”“Since then, polls have proliferated to the point where well over a hundred separate polls — more than a new poll each day — were reported in major news outlets during the 2016 general election.”

Decades of academic studies find that horse race reporting is linked to:

  • Distrust in politicians.
  • Distrust of news outlets.
  • An uninformed electorate.
  • Inaccurate reporting of opinion poll data.

Horse race coverage also:

  • Is detrimental to female political candidates, who tend to focus on policy issues to build credibility.
  • Gives an advantage to novel and unusual candidates.
  • Shortchanges third-party candidates, who often are overlooked or ignored because their chances of winning are slim compared to Republican and Democratic candidates.

Horse race reporting helped catapult billionaire businessman Donald Trump to a lead position during the nominating phase of the 2016 presidential campaign, finds another paper in Patterson’s research series, “News Coverage of the 2016 Presidential Primaries: Horse Race Reporting Has Consequences.”

“The media’s tendency to allocate coverage based on winning and losing affects voters’ decisions,” Patterson writes. “The press’s attention to early winners, and its tendency to afford them more positive coverage than their competitors, is not designed to boost their chances, but that’s a predictable effect.

The following academic studies, most of which were published in peer-reviewed journals, investigate the consequences of horse race reporting from multiple angles. For added context, we included several studies that take a critical look at how journalists use and interpret opinion polls in their election stories.

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The Consequences of Strategic News Coverage for Democracy: A Meta-Analysis
Zoizner, Alon. Communication Research, 2018.

In this study, researcher Alon Zoizner of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, analyzes 32 studies published or released from 1997 to 2016 that examine the effects of “strategic news” coverage. Zoizner describes strategic news coverage as the “coverage of politics [that] often focuses on politicians’ strategies and tactics as well as their campaign performance and position at the polls.”

Among the main takeaways: This type of reporting elevates the public’s cynicism toward politics and the issues featured as part of that coverage.

“In other words,” Zoizner writes, “this coverage leads to a specific public perception of politics that is dominated by a focus on political actors’ motivations for gaining power rather than their substantive concerns for the common good.”

He adds that young people, in particular, are susceptible to the effects of strategic news coverage because they have limited experience with the democratic process. They “may develop deep feelings of mistrust toward political elites, which will persist throughout their adult lives,” Zoizner writes.

His analysis also finds that this kind of reporting results in an uninformed electorate. The public receives less information about public policies and candidates’ positions on important issues.

“This finding erodes the media’s informative value because journalists cultivate a specific knowledge about politics that fosters political alienation rather than helping citizens make rational decisions based on substantive information,” the author writes. Framing politics as a game to be won “inhibits the development of an informed citizenship because the public is mostly familiar with the political rivalries instead of actually knowing what the substantive debate is about.”

Another key finding: Strategic news coverage hurts news outlets’ reputations. People exposed to it “are more critical of news stories and consider them to be less credible, interesting, and of low quality,” Zoizner explains. “Strategic coverage will continue to be a part of the news diet but in parallel will lead citizens to develop higher levels of cynicism and criticism not only toward politicians but also toward the media.”

News Coverage of the 2016 Presidential Primaries: Horse Race Reporting Has Consequences
Patterson, Thomas E. Harvard Kennedy School working paper, December 2016.

Horse race reporting gave Donald Trump an advantage during the 2016 presidential primary season, this working paper finds. Nearly 60% of the election news analyzed during this period characterized the election as a competitive game, with Trump receiving the most coverage of any candidate seeking the Republican nomination. In the final five weeks of the primary campaign, the press gave him more coverage than Democratic frontrunners Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders.

“The media’s obsession with Trump during the primaries meant that the Republican race was afforded far more coverage than the Democratic race, even though it lasted five weeks longer,” writes Patterson, who looked at election news coverage provided by eight major print and broadcast outlets over the first five months of 2016. “The Republican contest got 63 percent of the total coverage between January 1 and June 7, compared with the Democrats’ 37 percent — a margin of more than three to two.”

Patterson’s paper takes a detailed look at the proportion and tone of coverage for Republican and Democratic candidates during each stage of the primary campaign. He notes that the structure of the nominating process lends itself to horse race reporting. “Tasked with covering fifty contests crammed into the space of several months,” he writes, “journalists are unable to take their eyes or minds off the horse race or to resist the temptation to build their narratives around the candidates’ position in the race.”

Patterson explains how horse race journalism affects candidates’ images and can influence voter decisions. “The press’s attention to early winners, and its tendency to afford them more positive coverage than their competitors, is not designed to boost their chances, but that’s a predictable effect,” he writes. He points out that a candidate who’s performing well usually is portrayed positively while one who isn’t doing as well “has his or her weakest features put before the public.”

Patterson asserts that primary election coverage is “the inverse of what would work best for voters.” “Most voters don’t truly engage the campaign until the primary election stage,” he writes. “As a result, they enter the campaign nearly at the point of decision, unarmed with anything approaching a clear understanding of their choices. They are greeted by news coverage that’s long on the horse race and short on substance … It’s not until later in the process, when the race is nearly settled, that substance comes more fully into the mix.”

What Predicts the Game Frame? Media Ownership, Electoral Context, and Campaign News
Dunaway, Johanna; Lawrence, Regina G. Political Communication, 2015.

This study finds that corporate-owned and large-chain newspapers were more likely to publish stories that frame elections as a competitive game than newspapers with a single owner. It also finds that horse race coverage was most prevalent in close races and during the weeks leading up to an election.

Researchers Johanna Dunaway, an associate professor of communication at Texas A&M University, and Regina G. Lawrence, associate dean of the School of Journalism and Communication Portland, looked at print news stories about elections for governor and U.S. Senate in 2004, 2006 and 2008. They analyzed 10,784 articles published by 259 newspapers between Sept. 1 and Election Day of those years.

Their examination reveals that privately-owned, large-chain publications behave similarly to publications controlled by shareholders. “We expected public shareholder-controlled news organizations to be most likely to resort to game-framed news because of their tendency to emphasize the profit motive over other goals; in fact, privately owned large chains are slightly more likely to use the game frame in their campaign news coverage at mean levels of electoral competition,” Dunaway and Lawrence write.

They note that regardless of a news outlet’s ownership structure, journalists and audiences are drawn to the horse race in close races. “Given a close race, newspapers of many types will tend to converge on a game-framed election narrative and, by extension, stories focusing on who’s up/who’s down will crowd out stories about the policy issues they are presumably being elected to address,” the authors write. “And, as the days-’til-election variable shows, this pattern will intensify across the course of a close race.”

Gender Bias and Mainstream Media
Conroy, Meredith. Chapter within the book Masculinity, Media, and the American Presidency, 2015.

In this book chapter, Meredith Conroy, an associate professor of political science at California State University, San Bernardino, draws on earlier research that finds horse race coverage is more detrimental to women than men running for elected office. She explains that female candidates often emphasize their issue positions as a campaign strategy to bolster their credibility.

“If the election coverage neglects the issues, women may miss out on the opportunity to assuage fears about their perceived incompetency,” she writes. She adds that when the news “neglects substantive coverage, the focus turns to a focus on personality and appearance.”

“An overemphasis on personality and appearance is detrimental to women, as it further delegitimizes their place in the political realm, more so than for men, whose negative traits are still often masculine and thus still relevant to politics,” she writes.

Contagious Media Effects: How Media Use and Exposure to Game-Framed News Influence Media Trust
Hopmann, David Nicolas; Shehata, Adam; Strömbäck, Jesper. Mass Communication and Society, 2015.

How does framing politics as a strategic game influence the public’s trust in journalism? This study of Swedish news coverage suggests it lowers trust in all forms of print and broadcast news media — except tabloid newspapers.

The authors note that earlier research indicates people who don’t trust mainstream media often turn to tabloids for news. “By framing politics as a strategic game and thereby undermining trust not only in politics but also in the media, the media may thus simultaneously weaken the incentives for people to follow the news in mainstream media and strengthen the incentives for people to turn to alternative news sources,” write the authors, David Nicolas Hopmann, an associate professor at University of Southern Denmark, Adam Shehata, a senior lecturer at the University of Gothenburg, and Jesper Strömbäck, a professor at the University of Gothenburg.

The three researchers analyzed how four daily newspapers and three daily “newscasts” covered the 2010 Swedish national election campaign. They also looked at the results of surveys aimed at measuring people’s attitudes toward the Swedish news media in the months leading up to and immediately after the 2010 election. The sample comprised 4,760 respondents aged 18 to 74.

Another key takeaway of this study: The researchers discovered that when people read tabloid newspapers, their trust in them grows as does their distrust of the other media. “Taken together, these findings suggest that the mistrust caused by the framing of politics as a strategic game is contagious in two senses,” they write. “For all media except the tabloids, the mistrust toward politicians implied by the framing of politics as a strategic game is extended to the media-making use of this particular framing, whereas in the case of the tabloids, it is extended to other media.”

How journalists use opinion polls

The ‘Nate Silver Effect’ on Political Journalism: Gatecrashers, Gatekeepers, and Changing Newsroom Practices Around Coverage of Public Opinion Polls
Toff, Benjamin. Journalism, 2019.

This study, based on in-depth interviews with 41 U.S. journalists, media analysts and public opinion pollsters, documents changes in how news outlets cover public opinion. It reveals, among other things, “evidence of eroding internal newsroom standards about which polls to reference in coverage and how to adjudicate between surveys,” writes the author, Benjamin Toff, an assistant professor at the University of Minnesota’s Hubbard School of Journalism and Mass Communication. Toff notes that journalists’ focus on polling aggregator websites paired with the growing availability of online survey data has resulted in an overconfidence in polls’ ability to predict election outcomes — what one reporter he interviewed called the “Nate Silver effect.”

Both journalists and polling professionals expressed concern about journalists’ lack of training and their reliance on poll firms’ reputations as evidence of poll quality rather than the poll’s sampling design and other methodological details. Toff, who completed the interviews between October 2014 and May 2015, points out that advocacy organizations can take advantage of the situation to get reporters to unknowingly disseminate their messages.

The study also finds that younger journalists and those who work for online news organizations are less likely to consider it their job to interpret polls for the public. One online journalist, for example, told Toff that readers should help determine the reliability of poll results and that “in a lot of ways Twitter is our ombudsman.”

Toff calls on academic researchers to help improve coverage of public opinion, in part by offering clearer guidance on best practices for news reporting. “The challenge of interpreting public opinion is a collective one,” he writes, “and scholarship which merely chastises journalists for their shortcomings does not offer a productive path forward.”

Transforming Stability into Change: How the Media Select and Report Opinion Polls
Larsen, Erik Gahner; Fazekas, Zoltán. The International Journal of Press/Politics, 2019.

In this study, researchers find that journalists covering Danish elections are more likely to cover polls that suggest shifts in voter support than polls that reflect stable voter support. The researchers also find that when journalists tell their audiences that voter support has risen or fallen, it’s often misleading — there usually has been no statistically significant change when taking the poll’s margin of error into account.

Erik Gahner Larsen, a lecturer in quantitative politics at the University of Kent, and Zoltán Fazekas, an associate professor of business and politics at the Copenhagen Business School, examined news coverage of all opinion polls that eight polling firms conducted between 2011 and 2015 to measure Danish voters’ intentions. The analysis focuses on 4,147 news articles published on the websites of nine newspapers and two national TV companies, which, together, featured the results of a combined 412 opinion polls.

“In a majority of the cases the [journalists’] reporting should be about stability,” Larsen and Fazekas write. “However, 58% of the articles mention change in their title. Furthermore, while 82% of the polls have no statistically significant changes, 86% of the articles does not mention any considerations related to uncertainty.”

The authors note their findings reflect “systematic patterns in how journalists turn these polls into an illusionary political horserace.”

News Reporting of Opinion Polls: Journalism and Statistical Noise
Bhatti, Yosef; Pedersen, Rasmus Tue. International Journal of Public Opinion Research, 2016.

This paper, which also looks at news coverage of opinion polls in Denmark, finds that Danish journalists don’t do a great job reporting on opinion polls. Most journalists whose work was examined don’t seem to understand how a poll’s margin of error affects its results. Also, they often fail to explain to their audiences the statistical uncertainty of poll results, according to the authors, Yosef Bhatti of Roskilde University and Rasmus Tue Pedersen of the Danish Center for Social Science Research.

The two researchers analyzed the poll coverage provided by seven Danish newspapers before, during and after the 2011 parliamentary election campaign — a 260-day period from May 9, 2011 to Jan. 23, 2012. A total of 1,078 articles were examined.

Bhatti and Pedersen find that journalists often interpreted two poll results as different from each other when, considering the poll’s uncertainty, it actually was unclear whether one result was larger or smaller than the other. “A large share of the interpretations made by the journalists is based on differences in numbers that are so small that they are most likely just statistical noise,” they write.

They note that bad poll reporting might be the result of journalists’ poor statistical skills. But it “may also be driven by journalists’ and editors’ desires for interesting horse race stories,” the authors add. “Hence, the problem may not be a lack of methodological skills but may also be caused by a lack of a genuine adherence to the journalistic norms of reliability and fact-based news. If this is the case, unsubstantiated poll stories may be a more permanent and unavoidable feature of modern horse race coverage.”

Looking for more information on horse race reporting and opinion polls? Check out our tip sheet outlining 11 questions journalists should ask about opinion polls and our write-up of a study that finds that academic scholars are more likely to be included in horse race stories than issue coverage. Our collection of research on opinion polls digs into such things as polling errors and the relationship between media coverage and polling.

The outliers of Canadian media

Similar to other commentary but would benefit from an overall discussion of the media financial situation and shrinking employment, enrolment in j-schools (appears to be about 20 percent visible minorities), and the replication of much mainstream focussing on the words, not the record.

And if one cites the percentage of the population that is visible minority, use the 2016 number, not the 2011 one:

Last week, after the trifecta of images were released of Trudeau in blackface and brownface, a group of journalists of colour—Tanya Talaga, Manisha Krishnan and Anita Li—discussed the lack of diversity in Canadian newsrooms on CBC’s The Current.

Due to the lack of visible-minority voices reporting on Trudeau’s blackface, they all agreed, the story, which was really about systemic racism in Canada, was reduced to plain outrage. Rather than giving readers the context they needed to understand the prejudices that people of colour have faced historically and continue to face now, what the public got instead, was a political spin on Trudeau’s actions.

In other words, How would Trudeau’s blackface affect him in the upcoming election? 

For Krishnan, a senior writer for Vice, the questions directed to Trudeau at the media scrum post-blackface were the most frustrating. “There was really no one asking him, ‘Okay, you didn’t think it was racist, what were you thinking? Walk us through your thought process. Why would you think this was an appropriate thing to do?’” she said.

It’s largely about how the Canadian media covers race, Li added, explaining that one of the reasons she relocated stateside was because U.S. media has more of a willingness to publish stories that unpack the nuances of race. It is part lived experience, and part education, she explained.

The stats on newsroom diversity are grossly out-dated, and uncomfortable to examine: In 2006, only 3.4 per cent of people in newsrooms were people of colour. The fact that there’s been no concerted effort to publish current statistics on diversity trends in media signals an even greater concern—while newsroom diversity is abysmal, we’re idle, and simply too embarrassed to address it.

So what does it take for a person of colour, from an under-privileged home, to make it into a national newsroom? A lot. It’s a combination of both what you did and where you were—personal motivation and external circumstances. The handful—if that—of coloured faces in each newsroom you see are outliers. Don’t believe anyone who tells you otherwise.

I grew up in Thorncliffe Park, an area in Toronto’s East York, wedged between the Danforth and the more wealthy Leaside neighbourhood. Thorncliffe Park is a cul-de-sac of apartment buildings where, in the early 90s, an influx of Filipino immigrants settled. My cousins lived in the buildings across from me. Our church—St. Edith Stein—was majority Filipino. My dad and my uncles sat inside East York Town Centre on Saturday mornings, sipping coffee and telling stories in Tagalog.

The cul-de-sac was split in half: if you lived on one side, you attended school on the Danforth, if you lived on the other, you went to school in Leaside. Our building fed into Leaside. At St. Anselm, the student population was about 40 per cent Filipino, 60 per cent white.

There, I was schooled on the opportunities afforded to white people. My white classmates, most of whom had fathers who were doctors, lawyers, business owners and mothers who stayed at home, operated with a sense of unconscious certainty. Their upbringings provided them a firm sense of place in Canadian society. This even trickled into the way teachers and parents addressed the kids—you were either a “Leasider,” or not.

I’m no Malcolm Gladwell, but I don’t think it’s unreasonable to assume that—for a child who is 10 years old—having an awareness of economic opportunity by way of your parents correlates with job success later in life. And that’s the inherent advantage white people have in journalism. It’s a career that’s foreseeable in their worldview. Meanwhile, journalism for first-generation immigrant children is like one of those secrets you want to keep from your parents; it’s not part of the conversation at home, nor do you want to bring it up.

It was during my time at St. Anselm that I became acquainted with the term “white-washed”—people of colour who speak, dress and act like they’re white. I first recall my own intuitive white-washing when I spent the time in the homes of friends in Leaside. Inside their carefully decorated houses, I did everything not to highlight how I was different, and instead sought to prove that I was just like them.

The white-washing I subjected myself to as a child, is akin to the way in which I operated at the start of my career in media—showcasing my degrees rather than my personal perspective, listing off my bylines rather than the subject matter I’m passionate about (one being immigrant issues), and dumbing down the core reason why we need more people like me in journalism: If I don’t give the 850,000 Filipinos across Canada—the third-largest Asian-Canadian group in the country—a voice, who will?

In June, CBC and Radio-Canada’s broadcasting division announced a new commitment to diversity across their broadcasting arm. By 2025, they wrote in a press release, the company aims to have at least one key creative—producer, director, showrunner and lead performer—from a diverse background in all its programs. I’d argue that more must be done to radicalize diversity targets across all media.

This starts with having internship programs where at least 50 per cent of interns are people of colour. When it comes to securing a full-time gig in journalism, landing an entry-level role like an internship, is the first of many barriers to entry. By diversifying these jobs, we can ensure an ongoing funnel of young, visible-minority journalists making their way into national newsrooms.

Another idea is to have at least one key decision-making position at large news organizations be filled by a person of colour—and ideally, they’d have hiring authority. It’s one way to tackle what we know as the ‘similarity bias,’ which in the case of journalism and media, is the revolving door of white reporters hired by a majority-white management.

At Maclean’s, while our writers come from a number of backgrounds, the number of ethnic minorities on staff falls below 19.1 per cent,[note: 2016 census number is 22.3 percent] the percentage of people in Canada who identify as a member of a visible minority group, according to Statistics Canada. So instead of hiding from stats, shouldn’t we give these numbers a hard look and ask ourselves: Is Canada truly represented here?

Source: The outliers of Canadian media

Canadian media lacks nuance, depth on racial issues

Part of the Policy Options elections series. I have flagged to Anita Li, some of the weaknesses in her arguments:

  • Voter turnout: StatsCan analysis comparing Canadian-born versus long-term and recent immigrants in the 2015 and 2011 elections shows that the gap has shrunk (2007 data not relevant).
  • 2011:  77.4 percent Canadian-born, 70.7 percent established immigrants, 55.7 percent recent immigrants
  • 2015: 76 percent Canadian-born, 75.9 percent established immigrants, 70.1 percent recent immigrants
  • There is considerable variation based upon country of origin.

My sense is that the issue lies more with the financial and business model of media, and consequent reduced local and other news, which applies to all Canadians, whether visible minority or not.

My work with diversityvotes.ca which allows me to analyze ethnic media election coverage indicates that ethnic media is less ghettoized than Li suggests, largely mirroring mainstream coverage (spoiler alert for future article).

As to the diversity of journalists, given the number of visible minorities in j-schools and the buy-outs of senior journalists, expect that diversity will improve but not as quickly given the financial struggles of the industry:

Newsrooms in Canada are disproportionately white. This inequity means Canadian news coverage is less inclusive and therefore not truly representative of our country’s racial diversity. We’ve known all this for years, and still — despite the approach of the next federal election — establishment journalism organizations have not taken steps to address this worrying gap in a meaningful and systemic way. One consequence is lower voter turnout among people of colour.

The media is a pillar of democracy. Numerous studies reveal how an erosion in local news weakens civic engagement. Research suggests people who consume local news regularly are more likely to vote and participate in civic activities. But the spate of local publication closures in nearly 200 Canadian communities over the past decade has left a vacuum for misinformation to fill, compromised journalists’ ability to hold government accountable and resulted in more polarized communities where neighbours don’t trust each other.

These studies focus on geographic communities. But there’s scant research into how news poverty impacts racialized communities or geographic communities that are majority-minority, such as Scarborough, a suburb of more than 600,000 in the Greater Toronto Area where people of colour make up 73 percent of the total population. That’s concerning.

Why? According to a 2018 report from the UNC Center for Innovation and Sustainability in Local Media, news deserts tend to be around areas whose residents are poorer, less well-educated and older than people in other communities. News poverty impacts inner-city neighbourhoods and suburbs as well as sparsely populated rural and interior regions, the report says.

It’s not a stretch to extrapolate findings from geographically focused research on news deserts and apply them to underserved racialized communities. If you don’t see yourself reflected in the news, and you don’t see the connection between your community and policy issues, how motivated would you be to vote? How convinced would you be that you could effect change in your country — especially if the media rarely bothers to portray your perspective?

Of course, as many detractors of diversity and inclusion efforts have commonly but pointlessly argued, ethnic groups are not monolithic and have a diversity of thought, and race is just one pillar of a person’s identity. But few markers of identity are visible beyond race, and systemic racism is pervasive in Canada. Members of particular ethnic groups, especially visible-minority groups, will have shared experiences by virtue of their skin colour.

Ethnic media doesn’t even reflect citizens like me, a second-generation Canadian-born Chinese whose native language is English. To me, ethnic media is for my immigrant parents’ generation, not my friends and peers who grew up here.

There are ethnic media outlets in Canada, but they’re ghettoized in a two-tier system, where establishment media is seen as more legitimate and also seemingly absolved of covering issues that matter to immigrant Canadians in an in-depth way. Beyond that, ethnic media doesn’t even reflect citizens like me, a second-generation Canadian-born Chinese whose native language is English. To me, ethnic media is for my immigrant parents’ generation, not my friends and peers who grew up here. Unfortunately, these two audiences have been traditionally conflated, so there’s a gaping hole where news coverage should be for young, diverse Canadians.

Keeping this lack of relevant media presence and Canada’s long history of excluding people of colour from voting in mind, it’s no wonder eligible voters from some non-European communities have voted at lower rates than members of European communities, according to a 2007 Elections Canada study. Citing data from the Ethnic Diversity Survey of Statistics Canada, Elections Canada also reports that rates of voter participation are higher among foreign-born than Canadian-born people of colour.

Low voter turnout among people of colour will become a bigger problem for Canada if we don’t address it soon. StatsCan reports that among the country’s working-age population (ages 15 to 64), 20 percent identified themselves as “visible minority” in 2011 — a number that could double to nearly 40 percent by 2036.

When it comes to authentic pluralism, there’s a significant disconnect between how Canada perceives and portrays itself and what’s actually happening in this country.

Canada was the first country in the world to adopt multiculturalism as an official policy, in 1971, and it’s globally recognized as an arbiter of pluralism, so we tend to rest on our laurels regarding issues of race. It’s why, for so long, neither government nor the media seriously grappled with the country’s evolving cultural identity. Because there’s a sense that we’ve “achieved” multiculturalism in theory, Canadian political and media institutions are complacent and don’t frequently entertain conversations about our evolving cultural identity — much less move them forward. When it comes to authentic pluralism, there’s a significant disconnect between how Canada perceives and portrays itself and what’s actually happening in this country.

The 1971 Canadian Multiculturalism Policy and subsequent 1988 Canadian Multiculturalism Act, which came about after Canada became the first country in the world to pass a national multiculturalism law, were significant milestones. But they’ve had the sanitizing effect of falsely casting us as a perfect multicultural haven and as a foil to our unstable neighbour, America, with its unmanageable race problems.

In fact, contrary to popular belief, we’re far behind the United States in our discussions of race in the public sphere. Despite the extreme polarization in America, there’s an institutional and public willingness to talk about these issues that opens up dialogue and breaks down barriers. In Canada, we ignore the problem, so silos persist. In addition, this false sense that Canada is post-racial often has the effect of gaslighting people from racialized communities who continue to face discrimination today.

Given our British colonial past, Canada has a long history of defining its identity in terms of how un-American we are, so we resist embracing our neighbour’s practices for fear of surrendering to American cultural hegemony. But what is Canadian culture? Before the Second World War, it was synonymous with British and French culture, but that perception failed to take into account the tens of thousands of years of Indigenous cultures that predated Canada’s colonization. In fact, we didn’t have a clear, unified national identity of our own until after the war — and even now, it’s not one that all Canadians have embraced.

When it comes to filling in gaps in coverage for racialized communities in Canada, outlets here would be wise to follow in American media’s footsteps. Resistance to including these other narratives will only push Canadians into the arms of US publications — which have much more robust coverage of people of colour — and, ironically, put Canada on a path toward greater American cultural influence. We must evolve.

With Canada facing a rising populist tide and the incendiary language that tends to come with it, October’s election is an opportunity for all Canadian media to call things as they are. For example, journalists shouldn’t use “racially charged” or similar euphemisms when “racist” is more appropriate. The values underpinning multiculturalism are enshrined in our Constitution under section 27, so rather than seeking “balance,” the media must hold our leaders to account by challenging views and policies that are unconstitutional. The world, including Canada, is experiencing a historic moment that necessitates adversarial watchdog journalism.

The media should also move beyond reactive coverage of race that stokes outrage for outrage’s sake. Instead of a “he said, she said” style of reporting, journalists should provide context that breaks down Canada’s history of systemic racism and analyze how party policies will affect specific racialized communities (for example, they should examine why Indigenous communities are particularly vulnerable to climate change).

Outside of the election, the media should strive to capture the lived experiences of Canadians of colour (which, it’s important to note, are quite different from the experiences of Americans of colour). They should also keep up their recent increase in coverage of reconciliation and Canada’s Black Lives Matter movement. But I don’t want to see only stories of outrage — they paint a limited, black-and-white picture of racialized communities. I also want to see the nuanced spaces in between, where most people of colour live their lives: an intersectional take on climate change in Canada through a racial justice lens; a look at the historical contributions of Canadians of colour and how they impact us today; a deep dive into how second-generation Canadians are preserving their ancestors’ dying languages.

The media here must stop talking about Canada as if it’s an Anglo monoculture and start reflecting the multiculturalism that we proudly lay claim to but seldom live up to.

Source: Canadian media lacks nuance, depth on racial issues

Opinion: Report On Racism, But Ditch The Labels

Thoughtful commentary:

Editor’s note: NPR this week has described the language in President Trump’s tweets about a group of Democratic congresswomen as “racist.”

Keith Woods, NPR’s vice president for newsroom training and diversity, argues that journalists should not be using the term “racist” to describe the president’s tweets. He explains why below.


Once again, the president of the United States has used the sniper tower of Twitter to take aim at immigration, race relations and common decency. And once again, journalists are daring their profession to boldly call bigotry what it is: bigotry. Enough of the vacuous “racially charged,” “racially loaded,” “racially insensitive” evasions, they say. It’s racist, and we should just call it that.

I understand the moral outrage behind wanting to slap this particular label on this particular president and his many incendiary utterances, but I disagree. Journalism may not have come honorably to the conclusion that dispassionate distance is a virtue. But that’s the fragile line that separates the profession from the rancid, institution-debasing cesspool that is today’s politics.

It is precisely because journalism is given to warm-spit phrases like “racially insensitive” and “racially charged” that we should not be in the business of moral labeling in the first place. Who decides where the line is that the president crossed? The headline writer working today who thinks it’s “insensitive” or the one tomorrow who thinks it’s “racist?” Were we to use my moral standards, the line for calling people and words racist in this country would have been crossed decades ago. But that’s not what journalists do. We report and interview and attribute.

I am not a journalism purist. I came into the profession 40 years ago to tear down the spurious notion of objectivity used to protects a legacy of sexism, xenophobia and white supremacy. The better ideals of truth telling, accountability, fairness, etc., are what give journalism its power, while the notion of “objectivity” has been used to obscure and excuse the insidious biases we do battle with today.

I’ve been an informed consumer of the media since my days as a paperboy. I read the Times-Picayune as I delivered it, and the distorted view it offered of black and poor New Orleans told me all I needed to know about “objectivity.” We have come miles since then as a profession. But why should I trust that we’re all on the same page with our labels now? Weren’t last week’s tweets racist? Or last year’s? Weren’t some misogynistic? Vulgar? Homophobic? Sexist? The language of my judgment is generous, and they are my opinion, and they belong in the space reserved for opinions.

What’s at stake is journalism’s embattled claim to be the source of credible news grounded in the kind of deep, fair reporting that exposes injustice and holds powerful people to account. It may be satisfying to call the president’s words, or the president himself, racist, given the attacks tweeted from his bully app and so often aimed at our profession. But at what cost?

It’s already nearly impossible to separate actual journalism from the argumentative noise on the cable networks that dominate so much of public perception. There are already too many journalists dancing day and night on the line that once separated fact and judgment. When that line is finally obliterated and we sink into the cesspool beckoning us to its depths, this historically flawed, imperfect tool for revealing and routing racism will look and sound indistinguishable from the noise and become just as irrelevant.

On Sunday, the president wrote this:

“So interesting to see ‘Progressive’ Democrat Congresswomen, who originally came from countries whose governments are a complete and total catastrophe, the worst, most corrupt and inept anywhere in the world (if they even have a functioning government at all), now loudly and viciously telling the people of the United States, the greatest and most powerful Nation on earth, how our government is to be run. Why don’t they go back and help fix the totally broken and crime infested places from which they came.”

His words mirror those of avowed racists and xenophobes that date back to the birth of this country. Was that moral judgement, my last sentence? I would argue no. I’d call it context, and it doesn’t require my opinion, just a basic understanding of history. That’s an alternative to labels: Report. Quote people. Cite sources. Add context. Leave the moral labeling to the people affected; to the opinion writers, the editorial writers, the preachers and philosophers and to the public we serve.

We just have to do journalism.

Source: Opinion: Report On Racism, But Ditch The Labels

Journalists inherit ‘institutional blindspots’ that cloud coverage of race in politics, says media expert

From the Hill Times, Erin Tolley on blindspots, myself on diversityvotes.ca and others:

Increasing the diversity of newsrooms isn’t a cure-all for improving political coverage of racialized people, says a media expert, who argues that journalists often end up inheriting the institutional blindspots of the outlets they work for. 

“Even journalists of colour sometimes will produce coverage that differentiates and treats white and racialized subjects differently,” said Erin Tolley, political science professor at University of Toronto, in a phone interview. “Journalists are a product of the institutions that see whiteness as a norm. It’s not a problem of individual journalists.” 

Prof. Tolley spent four years surveying the mainstream media’s coverage of race in politics with data from the 2008 federal election, including how its depiction of non-incumbent, visible-minority candidates’ viability compared to non-incumbent, white candidates. 

“White, straight men are still seen as people who deserve to be in institutions of power, who naturally fit into those roles. … [Journalists] come at stories about racialized subjects with a different standard,” she said. “They present the white, non-incumbent candidates as more politically viable, more qualified to win, than racialized non-incumbents.” 

These unconscious biases towards visible-minority candidates tend to disappear from coverage, she said, when they occupy political office. 

Andrew Griffith, former director general at Citizenship and Immigration Canada during the Harper era, echoed Prof. Tolley’s assertion that improving diversity within one’s ranks doesn’t necessarily translate into a diversity of thought, particularly when the culture of the institution in question might promote conformity. “You had management teams that had a degree of diversity, but the corporate culture is about conforming. Did those diverse people bring a diverse perspective? You didn’t necessarily see that,” Mr. Griffith said of his own experience in government. 

Since retiring from public service, Mr. Griffith has now developed a tool with Mirems—a company that monitors and translates coverage from ethnic media sources—aimed at providing context about how issues are being covered in diaspora communities. The online tool is at Diversityvotes.ca. For journalists, he said, it can serve as a resource to deepen their understanding of the complexity of ethnic communities and to demystify perceptions that there’s a monolithic ethnic vote. “There’s a diversity with the diversity, and simply labelling or assuming people within a community are representative of an entire community is dangerous,” Mr. Griffith said. 

When confronted with their biases, Prof. Tolley said, journalists she interviewed—who spoke on the condition of confidentiality—tried to explain away differences in their framing of a candidate’s electability. For example, she observed that non-white candidates were more seen as long-shot candidates compared to their white counterparts. They insisted that any differences stemmed from a candidate’s level of experience, not stereotypes, even as she pointed out that those factors had been controlled for in the research. (The findings were published in her book, Framed: Media and the Coverage of Race in Canadian Politics.)

The Canadian Press style guide’s—the definitive handbook that many reporters have copies of handy—section on race illustrates how journalists are instructed to think about the subject of racial stereotypes, Prof. Tolley said. In both the previous and latest editions of the guide, one measure for determining whether it’s “pertinent” to mention a person’s race is if one is reporting on an “accomplishment unusual in a particular race.” Thinking of issues of race in those terms, she said, shows “some outdated thinking about race and racial characteristics. In defending CP’s standards, the guide’s editor, James McCarten, told her in an interview for the book that the word “unusual” may not be the right word, but he stood by the guideline, saying, “journalism oftentimes is all about firsts” and “historically relevant” events. 

Efforts to deepen coverage of race, politics 

Ryan McMahon, the host of Canadaland’s Thunder Bay podcast series, said that his Anishinaabe identity, coupled with the privilege of not immediately being seen as Indigenous because of his skin colour, informs his approach to reporting on issues of race. 

In setting out to tell the story of why Thunder Bay has the highest hate-crime rates in Canada and why there’s deep distrust in the city’s institutions, Mr. McMahon said, the “one thing” the podcast got right was getting someone like him to report on the city. Having firsthand exposure to the subtle ways that racism manifests itself, he said, helps in identifying and effectively naming racism. In his hometown of Fort Frances, Ont., for example, it was “rare” to see a “brown face” behind the cash register. 

“The way I experience racism is very different than someone who is visibly native. I can walk down the street and not be identified as Indigenous, so my experience is very different,” Mr. McMahon said. “[Racism in Canada] is often quiet, but aggressive, unspoken. … The kind of racism we’re talking about isn’t necessarily a Nazi skinhead, KKK apologist. It can often be an unconscious ignorance, with deeply held misperceptions. People hold on really tightly to stereotypes.” 

The groundwork laid by journalists such as Mr. McMahon and Toronto Star’s Tanya Talaga in chronicling the systemic racism in Thunder Bay that underpins its public institutions—and the national conversation that followed—helped open up the space for The Globe and Mail to establish a temporary presence in the northwestern Ontario city earlier this year. The paper had also done extensive coverage of Adam Capay, the Lac Seul First Nation man who spent about four years in solitary confinement. 

David Walmsley, The Globe’s editor-in-chief, explained in a staff memo that temporarily setting up shop in Thunder Bay, in an election year, presents this country a “chance to look inward and to encourage improvement in areas where we all know improvement needs to be made.”

Having spent more than a decade reporting on Indigenous issues, veteran Hill reporter Gloria Galloway was among the first reporters assigned to live for a couple of months in Thunder Bay, as part of the paper’s effort to deepen its coverage of the systemic racism in the city. The Globe does not have an Indigenous reporter on its staff, so it had a “limited pool” to choose from for the first stint, Ms. Galloway said. 

That The Globe, the country’s national newspaper, still doesn’t have an Indigenous columnist or staff reporter is a reflection of how the “markers” for improving diversity don’t appear to have moved much in Canadian media, said Mr. McMahon, who added that there are a bunch of journalists who are closer to the story. He said he’s been disappointed by The Globe’s coverage of Thunder Bay, pointing to the first piece released that gave an extensive overview, in interactive form, of the issue, with interviews from a cast of characters in the city. “So far, we’ve seen a Thunder Bay 101 piece. I understand why they had to do that, but it was a surface-level piece, a collection of stories that other journalists have already told,” Mr. McMahon said.

Ms. Galloway acknowledged that there’s a “huge learning curve” that comes with reporting on Indigenous issues, as a white woman. But, over time, through her reporting, she said, she’s developed a “sensitivity” to covering issues of race and has developed friendships and earned the respect of Indigenous peoples: “Every year, I’ve learned how much more I don’t know.”

Ms. Galloway said The Globe’s decision to dedicate resources to cover Thunder Bay was not an “insignificant financial commitment” for the paper, particularly in an election year. “I was pulled out of the Ottawa bureau for months. Losing a body in Ottawa for us is very difficult,” she said.

But there was an acknowledgment that shining a light on the situation could help elevate the issue to become part of the election discussion. “We’re not activist journalists, but certainly, there’s a sense in The Globe culture that shining a light on things that are wrong and having corrective action is [important],” Ms. Galloway said. 

Though Ms. Galloway is retiring next week, having decided to take a voluntary buyout, she said, the paper is committed to having a presence in Thunder Bay through the summer and fall. 

Source: Journalists inherit ‘institutional blindspots’ that cloud coverage of race in politics, says media expert

The racial profiling of Masai Ujiri: Andray Domise

Good column by Domise:

A few years ago, after I wrote a column for Maclean’s on the police killing of Jordan Edwards, I informed my editor at the time that I would prefer to not cover the topic when it wasn’t relevant to Canada. Of course, it’s important for news media to document police killings, I said at the time, and it’s the responsibility of the columnist to analyze them. Otherwise, the narrative offered by police (which is too often passed on by a sympathetic media as objective reporting) becomes the lone authoritative voice in the discourse. This skewed reporting can leave readers with the impression that Black people suffer death—as well as brutal assaults, verbal abuse at gunpoint, and everyday racial profiling—as a result of our own careless actions, rather than state-sanctioned enforcement of racial hierarchies.

But there is a mental toll to writing about police violence, and that the source of that toll isn’t just the knowledge that a structurally white supremacist state sees Black life as disposable, if not inconvenient to its project. There’s also the fact that Black writers must revisit this conversation, ad infinitum, and be met with skeptical reactions ranging from feigned shock to outright denial when we provide rafts of evidence that police are not simply affected by “unconscious bias” (which is clever bureaucrat-speak for “everybody’s a little bit racist”), but are active participants in racial conflict.

Take, for example, the carding of Toronto Raptors president Masai Ujiri. After the final moments of game six, when nine milliseconds were stretched by procedural nonsense into infinity, Ujiri raced towards the court to celebrate victory along with the team he spent years building to perfection. As he approached the hardwood, he was stopped by a deputy of the Alameda County Sherriff’s Office. What happened next is unclear, but to hear spokesperson Sgt. Ray Kelly tell it, when asked to present his credentials, Ujiri allegedly shoved the officer and then shoved him again, striking him in the jaw the second time.

On the other hand, Greg Wiener, a Warriors season ticket holder standing nearby the altercation, refuted that version of events. He tweeted: “Ujiri was pulling out his NBA Pass, the cop did not see badge he put his hands on Ujiri to stop him from going forward. The cop pushed Ujiri, then Ujiri pushed back. Cop was wrong.” Wiener repeated this in a televised interview, again suggesting the officer physically restrained Ujiri. Videos from other Twitter users soon surfaced, including footage from backstage as the game concluded, which showed Ujiri holding a badge in his hand while heading out to the arena. In other words, he had what he needed to be where he had to be for his team.

I also spoke with Raptors game announcer Leo Rautins, who described the Alameda Sheriff’s Office version of events as complete nonsense. “There is no way this isn’t a racial profile at best. I did a fast walk by security and no one cared,” Rautins said. “Masai was with his security, and team personnel, who all have credentials. How many [Black] men in a suit, with security and credentials, are trying to get on the court for a trophy presentation?”

And how was the story reported in Canada?

When the news about the alleged assault emerged, just about every Canadian news service (including  Globe and Mail, CBC, and National Post blared headlines that Masai Ujiri was “accused of assaulting sheriff’s deputy.” All were based on wire news from Adam Burns of the Canadian Press (the Globe and Mail later softened the headline to “allegedly involved in altercation as he was blocked trying to join title celebration,” after it became apparent the original was not going to fly). In the original Canadian Press story, Sgt. Kelly was the lone voice quoted, with no counter-narrative whatsoever, leaving the impression that Ujiri attempted to buffalo his way through a police officer, an officer just trying to do his job, and in the interest of optics during the Sheriff’s office decided to let Ujiri get away with it.

Let’s put all of that aside for a moment. Let’s even put aside the fact that this is the same Sheriff’s office that hosted the Oath Keepers (a far-right paramilitary organization known for racial antagonism), that has a history of excessive force and racial profiling, and once re-tweeted prominent white supremacist Richard Spencer(supposedly by accident). To believe this version of events, one would have to believe that Masai Ujiri—a Black man who in his previous role as director for the NBA’s Basketball Without Borders program helped cultivate young global talent, who has met and spoken with Black youth from all over Canada, and is currently the most powerful executive in the NBA—that Masai Ujiri walks around so gassed-up during the most important moment of his professional life, that he responds to mild inconvenience by assaulting a sheriff’s deputy. That was the narrative that Canadian press were willing to promote, until a white witness stepped forward to vouch for Ujiri’s conduct.

This is exactly what police count on. When people see racial profiling as a benign accident at best, and bad actors tainting an otherwise good system at worst, its intended purpose is so obscured that we must discuss every offense, every case, every murder, every denial of our humanity as a one-off incident that forms no recognizable pattern of behaviour. Much less a structural tool of a system predicated on keeping Black people in a state of forced obsequiousness, no matter how high we rise within that system, or how powerful we may appear to be. What should have been the proudest moment of Ujiri’s life, and should have been a moment of unadulterated joy for Raptors fans, became yet another footnote in the body of evidence on racial profiling.

And our news media, for all of the promises to be mindful of its own blind spots, gave the police every ounce of undeserved credibility they asked for.

I’m afraid I have no lofty conclusion for my thoughts here, because there is nothing to conclude. The profiling of Masai Ujiri is just the latest entry in that never-ending conversation. Once it fades, we’ll be forced to recapitulate the entire argument, for whatever ridiculous reason, and I don’t look forward to it.

Source: The racial profiling of Masai Ujiri

Yee: Journalism has a racism problem

To a certain extent, understandable that j-schools are still overly older white men given historical demographics but that will continue to change over time.

I was unable to easily locate national statistics on the number of journalism graduates broken down by gender and visible minority to see if part of the issue is that visible minorities are less likely to select journalism than other programs, which may also reflect the financial difficulties facing the industry.

A more useful analysis would take a look at all j-schools in terms of their teaching staff and student body to assess the extent that Carleton is the norm or not (suspect it is with respect to teaching staff but perhaps less so with respect to the student body):

Arvin Joaquin, of Carleton University’s master of journalism program, graduated in 2018 and published a radio piece on the lack of diversity in j-schools. Just weeks ago, Atong Ater, another grad student, wrote for CBC about racism she faced as a black student in the program.

In the classroom, students are facing racism and microaggressions that impact their lives and studies, be it while pitching a story about a racialized community, or being tokenized amongst their peers. This not only affects training grounds for the industry, but also the quality and content of journalism we see in national publications.

Sunny Dhillon of the Globe and Mail wrote about leaving the paper last fall in his piece, Journalism While Brown and When to Walk Away. Dhillon was assigned a story about the aftermath of the Vancouver municipal election — nine white bodies out of 10 were elected to represent a city where Asians represent 45 per cent of the population. He left when he was told to focus on the eight white women elected instead.

Journalism is touted as uncovering the truth and giving a voice to those unheard. But those within the very institution say they feel stifled.

When journalism and journalism schools ignore the existence of racism, we get untold stories, bias and inaccurate information. Leaving racism unchallenged, wrote journalist Andray Domise for Maclean’s, is allowing the political climate of white nationalism to flourish.

From a glance at Carleton’s School of Journalism website, about seven of its 60 staff are visibly people of colour. But instructors carrying heavy seniority and leading major courses continue to be older white men.

Racism is in post-secondary institutions where education is even greater of a privilege — it was only recently that Carleton journalism student Temur Durrani wrote about black students on campus experiencing racial profiling.

The bylines of the Ottawa Citizen itself are mainly of white journalists, meaning stories in the city are still being shared from similar perspectives.

What stories are going unheard? Under the editor-in-chief leadership of a woman of colour at University of Ottawa’s student paper, The Fulcrum, journalists unearthed pieces about accessing mental health care as a racialized person, as well as an initiative offering courses on Punjabi and the Sikh diaspora.

The school of journalism is a microcosm of a larger issue that Carleton University, newsrooms and society needs to address as a whole. In the meantime? Create a task force. Hire an equity officer. Initiate ongoing anti-racism training for all instructors and journalists. Do more so that your racialized students, staff and sources aren’t left behind.

Source: Yee: Journalism has a racism problem

A cultural policy that overlooks multiculturalism [media focus]

George Abraham, publisher of New Canadian Media, on the need for broader and more diverse journalism (disclosure: I assisted George and New Canadian Media during its early years):

For a multicultural country, we have a rather monocultural media landscape. Our newsrooms and media organizations no longer reflect their audiences.  Heritage Minister Mélanie Joly missed an opportunity to make a policy intervention that would have at least nudged some reform.

Canada’s multicultural media has been decimated in recent years.  There were budget cuts in multicultural programming at the Rogers-owned OMNI Television. A promising media enterprise that published a string of multicultural and community newspapers went under in 2013. It was ironic that the Mississauga-based Multicultural Nova Corporation was being subsidized by the Italian government. These and other outlets help Canadians weave a shared narrative around what it means to be Canadian, at a time when our “ethno-cultural” (to use a favourite expression of bureaucrats) makeup is rapidly changing. Our ethnic media remain as fragmented and resource-strapped as ever.

“Canada’s ethnic and third-language communities do not have access to enough news and information programming in multiple languages from a Canadian perspective,” the chairman of the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) Jean-Pierre Blais said in May.

The fact is, Canada is rapidly changing before our eyes, but we continue to sleepwalk through this transformation.

While media organizations and journalism schools appear to have given up measuring the representation of minorities in newsrooms (the last credible industry-wide study was in 2004), the government is aware that this lack of representation is a major handicap for new immigrants. A June 2014 study titled “Evidence-based Levels and Mix: Absorptive Capacity” (bureaucratese for how well Canada integrates its immigrants) stated categorically: “There is no clear commitment to achieving diversity in Canada’s newsrooms or in Canadian news content.” (The study was commissioned by Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada, and it was released under the Access to Information Act.)

The government’s new cultural policy did little to shift the conversation to the emerging media players who are redefining journalism for a new era. It failed to state the obvious: a shrinking cohort of media organizations that have monopolized national discourse are headed for irrelevance, because neither their audience nor their newsrooms are reflective of Canada at large.

This lopsided media structure means that folks like me don’t get to tell our own stories on our own terms. Somebody else uses the lens of their lived experience to interpret our immigrant stories. A cultural and content policy written in 2017 ought to have been much more mindful of this shift – roughly 40 percent of Canadians are either foreign-born or the children of immigrants (the bulk of them have Asian roots, like Jagmeet Singh). The minister should have outlined specific goals to foster and sustain the kind of journalism that reflects a new Canada where the rise of a sardar (turbaned Sikh) is not a leap of faith, but a fact of life.

I write this as somebody who is well aware of the perils of “government support.” Not all governments are benign actors. In Dubai, the owners of the newspaper where I once worked found themselves on the wrong side of the ruling family. We had a dedicated “reporter” whose job was to relay diktats from the government to the editor. At another outlet in Doha, the newspaper was owned by the country’s then foreign minister. It was my job as managing editor to walk the gauntlet between censorship and shackled freedom. The country even had a director of censorship, who subsequently became the editor-in-chief of an Arabic language newspaper.

Not all journalists welcome government support. The Canadian nonprofit media organization that I run has lost editors who couldn’t live with any form of government funding. We’ve viewed these grants – including those from the Canada Periodical Fund – as seed money for an enterprise that serves the collective public good. I’d like to think that we exist because we fulfill a need. Joly missed an opportunity to signal a shift of tax dollars towards content that enables new players to take advantage of gaps in the marketplace of ideas.

I also know first-hand that editors and newsroom managers are loath to take the bold steps that will change the demographics of their newsrooms. There’s a lot of lip service being done out there and little concrete action. The cultural industries policy statement could have made a big difference by offering incentives to correct this imbalance and foster the growth of alternative media platforms that cater to niche markets.

Instead, the headline coming out of the policy statement was focused on Netflix and its promise to make investments in Canadian productions, as if this would in some way feed this country’s desperate need for a new narrative and a new conversation. Entertainment seemed to take precedence over journalism in the policy announcement, although both embody the stories we tell ourselves and the stories we tell the rest of the world.

However, fact is more important than fiction. Facts are sacrosanct and the need of the hour. The phenomenon of “fake news” can only be addressed by true and tested journalism. The opinions of Canadians need to be shaped by solid, on-the-ground reporting done by journalists who are embedded in their communities and share the lived experience of the places they call home. This includes newcomer journalists who offer unique perspectives about their communities and are informed by the day-to-day trials that immigrants face in buying or renting homes, finding employment, enrolling their children in schools and becoming full members of the society around them. There is a public interest in ensuring that their voices are heard, not just through niche media and ethnic platforms but also in legacy newsrooms.

The federal government has rightly supported Canadian culture and content since the days of the Massey Commission in 1951. A Canada of 35 million people, or an imagined one of 100 million, will live or die on the ties that bind its people together. Old-fashioned journalism ought to be the bedrock of a more globalized, more multicultural Canada.

Source: A cultural policy that overlooks multiculturalism

Google is funding a new software project that will automate writing local news – Recode

More white collar jobs at risk – other professions will likely face similar partial replacement (e.g., lawyers, accountants):

Google is awarding the Press Association, a large British news agency, $805,000 to build software to automate the writing of 30,000 local stories a month.

The money comes from a fund from Google, the Digital News Initiative, that the search giant started with a commitment to invest over $170 million to support digital innovation in newsrooms across Europe.

The Press Assocation received the funding in partnership with Urbs Media, an automation software startup specializing in combing through large open datasets. Together, the Press Assocation and Urbs Media will work on a software project dubbed Radar, which stands for Reporters And Data And Robots.

Radar aims to automate local reporting with large public databases from government agencies or local law enforcement — basically roboticizing the work of reporters. Stories from the data will be penned using Natural Language Generation, which converts information gleaned from the data into words.

The robotic reporters won’t be working alone. The grant includes funds allocated to hire five journalists to identify datasets, as well as curate and edit the news articles generated from Radar. The project also aims to create automated ways to add images and video to robot-made stories.

“Skilled human journalists will still be vital in the process,” said Peter Clifton, the editor in chief of the Press Assocation in a statement. “But Radar allows us to harness artificial intelligence to scale up to a volume of local stories that would be impossible to provide manually.”

The Associated Press, a major U.S. news agency, started using automation software to generate stories about corporate financial quarterly earnings in 2014. The AP now posts thousands of stories every quarter with the help of its robotic reporting tools.

But the AP generally automates the generation of stories that don’t require investigation. Quarterly earnings are essential to cover for business journalism, but it often amounts to essentially sharing and comparing new numbers from the company with past earnings reports. That requires crunching numbers quickly, which might make more sense to be done by a robot.

The Radar project, on the other hand, plans to cover issues of local importance, digging into government datasets to find stories that matter. That kind of news judgement takes a deep understanding of social, political and local contexts, which humans are better suited to determine than software. The team of journalists who work on the project will likely be key to making it a success.

Still, Clifton says that this type of automated reporting can go a long way at a time of extreme financial pressures on media outlets, helping to cover important local stories — albeit with fewer people involved in the process.

Source: Google is funding a new software project that will automate writing local news – Recode