Baron: We want objective judges and doctors. Why not journalists too?

Required reading by journalists, would be journalists and j-schools, with broader application including overly activist academics:

Objectivity in journalism has attracted a lot of attention lately. It also is a subject that has suffered from confusion and an abundance of distortion.

I’m about to do something terribly unpopular in my profession these days: Defend the idea.

Let’s step back a bit. First, a dictionary definition of objectivity. This is from Merriam-Webster: “expressing or dealing with facts or conditions as perceived without distortion by personal feelings, prejudices, or interpretations.”

Source: We want objective judges and doctors. Why not journalists too?

Elghawaby: Racial diversity is good for business but CTV, Bell Media got it horribly wrong

Of note. One of the good aspects of the CAJ surveys is that we will start being able to track trends, just as government has been able to do with respect to the public service and the federally-regulated sectors.

Haven’t looked at j-school diversity trends but hopefully will be able to do so in the 2021 census:

Angry reactions to the sudden ousting of decorated broadcaster Lisa LaFlamme from her job as CTV’s chief news anchor and senior editor haven’t abated. 

In fact, a new Dove Canada campaign encouraging people to turn social filters grey in solidarity with women “being edged out of the workplace” has added renewed energy to online chatter. That’s due to speculation that LaFlamme’s decision to keep her silver locks was among the possible reasons for her sudden dismissal.

Whether it was her hair, her strength, or her salary, what most people agree is that LaFlamme’s firing reeks of discrimination rooted in sexism and ageism.

What has been largely lost amidst the justified uproar is a full embrace of the channel’s first-ever racialized male national news anchor. 

As Global News reporter Ahmar Khan tweeted: “Omar Sachedina is very much deserving of the role and is well-respected amongst journalists, but Bell Media’s treatment of Lisa LaFlamme overshadows it all. A Muslim man helming the biggest National news program — history. But, diversity doesn’t cover the gaps of mistreatment.”

Khan was reacting to the instant blowback Sachedina received to his poorly timed tweet announcing his new role. 

For racialized communities, who are too often missing from Canada’s newsrooms, particularly in leadership positions, it feels impossible to celebrate this historic moment. 

Yet, it’s critical to remember how far behind the nation’s newsrooms are when it comes to representation and inclusion. A lack of diversity hurts both their bottom lines and our democracy.

A 2021 paper from the World Economic Forum titled,“Tackling Diversity and Inclusion in the Newsroom,” explored how racial diversity is crucial to the success of the media industry.

“The Poynter Institute, a non-profit journalism education and research organization, reports that trust in the media is particularly low in communities that have long felt ignored or misrepresented by mainstream news outlets. News outlets cannot expect to hold or grow the attention of a diverse group of readers without accounting for their diversity in the newsgathering and news reporting process,” reads the paper. 

It goes on to point to a 2018 study from the global management consulting firm McKinsey & Company, which shows how diverse companies outperform those that aren’t as diverse, leading to a 36 per cent increase of profitability. This is often attributed to healthier work environments, which foster growth and innovation.

In Canada, we’re barely even catching up to the racial realities of our newsrooms, as the Canadian Association of Journalists pointed out last year in one of the most comprehensive analyses of newsroom diversity ever published (in which Bell Media’s CTV refused to participate).

That survey collected race-based data on 3,783 journalists in 209 newsrooms and the results were disheartening. It found that almost half of all Canadian newsrooms exclusively employed white journalists, and that about nine in 10 newsrooms have no Latin, Middle Eastern or mixed race journalists on staff. 

About eight in 10 newsrooms have no Black or Indigenous journalists; two-thirds have no Asian people on staff. Eighty per cent of newsrooms have no visible minority journalists in any of the top-three editorial positions: editor-in-chief, executive producer, or deputy editor.

This impacts the quality of political news we receive, with racialized candidates viewed as “outsiders.” This biased lens means they receive more negative coverage than white candidates, according to Erin Tolley, assistant professor of political science at the University of Toronto, and author of the 2016 book, “Framed: Media and the Coverage of Race in Canadian Politics.”

So, for communities sometimes underserved or stereotyped by mainstream media, it’s a good day when a racialized journalist steps into a leadership role.

Except when it happens under circumstances like the one both Sachedina and LaFlamme found themselves in. That’s on Bell Media.

Source: Racial diversity is good for business but CTV, Bell Media got it horribly wrong

‘Clearly there are stories we’re not telling’: Study seeks to improve diversity in news sources

Will be interesting to see the results, hopefully with some qualitative analysis of the differences in perspectives covered. One can see some of this shift occurring in the CBC:

For all the prodding, encouragement and reminders, progress to improve the diversity of voices in news stories seems frustratingly slow.

Now a project involving national news agency The Canadian Press and Carleton University’s School of Journalism is hoping to get a better understanding of who gets quoted, and provide a catalyst for change.

CP has teamed with the journalism school to “identify, track and analyze” the choice of interview subjects by its journalists. The goal is to track the diversity of individuals — or lack of, as a news release pointedly notes — based on gender, race and ethnicity and other equity-seeking groups.

Joanna Smith, CP’s Ottawa bureau chief, is the impetus behind the work. The goal, she emphasizes, is not simply to diversify sources. The goal is the better journalism that comes when news coverage is truly representative.

“Over and over again, we are returning to the same sources in TV and journalism, the same largely white, largely male, largely institution-based” people, Smith said. “The idea of broadening the diversity of our sources is really about telling bigger and better and different stories.” 

(Disclosure: Torstar, the parent company of the Toronto Star, is a part owner of The Canadian Press).

Nana aba Duncan, who holds the Carty Chair in Journalism, Diversity and Inclusion Studies at the journalism school, said a journalist’s first choice for an interview is often someone they’ve worked with or someone they know. It’s likely that source is not from an under-represented group.

“Our first thought is what is the easiest and what is the quickest?” Duncan said. “Anything that has to do with change has to be intentional.”

That’s why research is vital to track who is being quoted — and who is being left out. “We absolutely have to do it or else it just doesn’t get done,” said Duncan, a former CBC broadcaster who is part of the project research team.

Duncan says it’s also important how those voices are framed and treated in the story. Are we engaging people for their expertise, such as economics or politics, or only for their race or gender? Where are these voices appearing in the story? Are they making the news or reacting to it?

“You may have an experience in which you are undermined or … your value is just not recognized. That has an effect,” she said. 

Professor Allan Thompson, the head of the journalism school, says the lack of diversity in news articles speaks to the “embedded bias” that exist in newsrooms and journalism.

To him, diversity is about fact-checking and accuracy. “Unless the sourcing reflects society, then it’s not accurate, even if all the words are verbatim,” Thompson said.

“We’re knitting some cloth that is the narrative of our society. If we’re only using one cross-section of voices, then clearly there are stories we’re not telling, there are perspectives on stories that we’re not capturing, and we’re just self-perpetuating our own version of a narrative,” he said.

Shari Graydon, director of Informed Opinions, has been working for years to get more women’s voices into news coverage. (The organization provides a searchable database of more than 2,200 women experts, so there’s no excuse for journalists to exclude them.)

Its online “Gender Gap Tracker” shows the percentage of female sources in online news coverage by major news outlets. It measures all stories, such as those filed by news agencies, rather than those written solely by an outlet’s own journalists alone. Over the last 12 months, sources quoted in stories on the Star’s website have been overwhelmingly male (74 per cent) versus female (26 per cent). 

Graydon said that a diversity of sources in news coverage is a hallmark of good journalism. “I really think awareness is not remotely enough,” she said, urging record-keeping as a precaution against the self-delusion one is doing better than they really are. 

Lasting change requires deliberate action. Journalists have control over the sources they choose to interview. As a start, they should review their last 10 stories. Who was quoted? Going forward, the objective is to cultivate more representative sources and track that work. 

Duncan emphasizes that media outlets must support such efforts. “It’s on the institution saying, ‘We care about this. Here’s what we’re going to do. We’re going to spend money on caring about diversity and being intentional about it,’” she said.

This project, due to unfold over the coming months, promises to improve the diversity of sources used in CP articles, which would benefit all news organizations that rely on its coverage. I’m hopeful it will offer lessons all newsrooms can draw on.

Source: ‘Clearly there are stories we’re not telling’: Study seeks to improve diversity in news sources

University research could point the way to more inclusive journalism

Will be interesting to see the results of this analysis, particularly the evidence in contrast to perceptions:

How well does journalism reflect the diversity of the community? And what are the perceptions of that coverage?

The Diversity Institute at Ryerson University expects to provide some answers with research examining media coverage and its impact in shaping biases and perceptions.

The examination was inspired in part by the institute’s extensive work examining discriminatory workplace practices that, for example, limit gender and racial representation on corporate boards and in executive leadership positions.

From this, there was a recognition of the media’s influence on perceptions and stereotypes, which have a “profound” effect on people’s assumptions about others, said Wendy Cukier, the institute’s director and a professor of entrepreneurship and strategy at the university’s Ted Rogers School of Management.

“Every single aspect of diversity and inclusion in the workplace or in the education system pointed to broad cultural stereotypes and biases that get embedded in organizations and shape the way individuals think and behave,” she said.

“The media is one of the most important carriers of values and culture. And it has a profound impact on these stereotypes and assumptions and biases, or it can help challenge them,” Cukier said.

The project, tentatively titled “Media Bias and Under-represented Groups,” will analyze the online news of selected outlets and their representations of those who are Indigenous, Jewish, Muslim, Black and racialized. Focus groups with identified groups will glean perceptions of media coverage and its impact on their identities.

The research will identify areas of misrepresentation, under coverage or coverage that reinforces negative stereotypes. The objective is to make journalism more representative and inclusive.

Working on the project are Mohamed Elmi, the institute’s director of research, and Ruby Latif, research associate, Media Bias Project lead. Both have experience examining how media shape stereotypes.

Elmi was involved with the Black Experience Project, an extensive study published in 2017 that examined what it was like to be Black in the Greater Toronto Area. In a survey done for the project, respondents cited inaccurate media portrayals of the Black community that exaggerated involvement in criminal activity, or depicted them as uneducated or lacking ambition. Few saw what they considered to be accurate portrayals of Blacks as leaders or individual success stories.

“When you’re looking at the media, they only saw people who look like them portrayed in a negative light, not necessarily as an expert or some commentator on a particular subject,” Elmi said.

Latif’s own research focused on Muslim women and organizations. That work and research since has noted how the Muslim community was being “othered,” she said.

“It’s putting somebody in another light, that they’re not part of the in-group … showing that they’re not the same or they don’t have similar values, like Canadian values,” said Latif, who is a regular contributor to the Star’s opinion section.

The deaths of a London, Ont. family — run down last month during an evening walk because they were Muslim, according to police — has underscored those concerns.

The role of mass media in amplifying racial divides is well-documented. The Ontario Human Rights Commission notes, for example, that racism “is communicated and reproduced through agencies of socialization and cultural transmission such as the mass media (in which racialized persons are portrayed as different from the norm or as problems).”

Cukier says progress has been made, notably in the wake of last year’s murder of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer. “But I’m not sure if mainstream reporting and editing and the kind of power structure has shifted that much,” she said.

Floyd’s death prompted a reckoning among institutions on race, racism and diversity. For media outlets like the Toronto Star, it means examining how well the paper reflects the diversity of the community it serves, in both the journalists who work in the newsroom and in its coverage.

Breaking stereotypes and ensuring stories are representative requires effort in all parts of the editorial process, from decisions on which stories to cover, the language used in those stories, the people chosen for interviews and the selection of pictures. Each is a subjective decision — and a chance to make coverage more inclusive.

Researchers emphasize that media portrayals too often perpetuate stereotypes. Another issue is journalists only seeking out racialized individuals to talk about issues of diversity and race, rather than their fields of expertise, be it finance, law or science. “They’re not featured as experts in whatever their field is … I would argue that just reinforces a certain kind of marginalization,” Cukier said.

The Trust Project, a global group of media outlets that includes the Star, rightly sets out diverse voices as one marker of trusted news: “Are some communities or perspectives included only in stereotypical ways, or even completely missing?” And the Torstar Journalistic Standards Guide states, “Inclusiveness is at the heart of thinking and acting as journalists.”

The Star has worked to ensure that the diversity of the community is reflected in its stories. Journalists are encouraged to bring new voices to their story-telling. It makes for better-informed journalism and improved civic discourse. No doubt that remains a work in progress.

This research project promises to be an important road map to how the Star and other media outlets can do better.


Normalizing diversity in newsrooms is how we’ll tackle racial equity in the media

Some good practical suggestions:

I grew up in a radio station – specifically, the first Chinese-language radio station in Vancouver. It was run by my parents who saw demand turn their hour-long volunteer program in the 1970s into a full-fledged media business. My mother set up office dividers to create a play space for me at the station while she produced programs like my dad’s weekly phone-in talk show.

Over the 25 years my parents worked in broadcasting, non-Chinese-Canadian politicians, public service agencies, businesses and local celebrities realized that Cantonese and Mandarin programming was a valuable conduit to a captive audience: new Canadians who could vote, influence their social circles and buy things. These authority figures whom mainstream media had to chase down were knocking on the doors, trying to get time and attention on a Chinese-language radio station’s airwaves.

Years later, when HuffPost Canada hired me as an editor, I walked into a news operation where more than 50 per cent of the staff were people of colour, including my boss and his boss. When it came to coverage of certain communities of colour, story meetings and staff pitches started from a place of understanding because we were part of these very communities. The HuffPost Canada team once pursued a story idea that some people may have interpreted as a complaint about WestJet baggage fees, but our newsroom recognized immediately as a potentially discriminatory policy against the practice of remittance, which is commonly used by immigrant families to send money or items to their countries of origin.

Needless to say, I was privileged to be immersed in unique media environments where the norm was people of colour leading editorial, business and hiring decisions; where “others” were re-situated as the centre of stories; and where an authentic connection to the audience was rewarded with engagement and revenue. I’m well aware it’s a rare experience.

A demographic survey of newsroom staff at Canadian newspapers in 2004 found that 3.4 per cent were non-white, even though 16.7 per cent of Canada’s population identified themselves as Indigenous or a member of a visible minority group at the time. Since then, there’s been scant research into Canadian newsroom diversity, partly because few media operations here have been willing to collect or share that data with researchers. (The Canadian Association of Journalists launched a newsroom diversity survey in November 2020, and responses are still being collected. CBC/Radio-Canada, which is mandated to report its staff demographics, said in 2020 that 14.1 per cent of its overall workforce of 7,600 – including non-editorial staff – identifies as a visible minority and 2.1 per cent as Indigenous. A breakdown of the 1,900 English-service news staff is not available.)

Along with the ongoing charges that Canada’s mainstream newsrooms and their coverageare not truly representative of the country’s racial (and I’d also argue geographic and class) diversity, there’s been discussion about the real and perceived barriers that hinder easy progress: the general decline of media revenue and jobs, a lack of qualified BIPOC journalists, systemic racism and unconscious bias.

Solutions that have already been proposed – independent reviews, unconscious-bias training, mentorship programs, scholarships and fellowships, targeted hiring percentages – are noble and welcome. But they’re also generally short-term initiatives. Unconscious-bias training, for example, may unlock some deep conversations and self-reflection, but it’s over in a day or two.

Normalizing diversity in all facets of newsroom operations is a focused way to build the critical mass necessary to have any chance of tackling racial inequity in Canadian media, and to create the audience connections that are required for its survival. Achieving racial equity in journalistic content doesn’t have to be costly, but it does require an evolution in how news is defined, and in who is involved in that process.

A diversity of experiences that comes with a diverse staff tends to elicit more robust conversations that lead to more unique story ideas.

For example, the story meeting is a hallmark of most newsrooms, and what’s defined as the day’s “news” depends on the makeup of the people debating it. If most of them spent the weekend at a cottage, for example, frustrating highway construction delays might be top of mind. But is that truly reflective of what the audience cares about? A diversity of experiences that comes with a diverse staff tends to elicit more robust conversations that lead to more unique story ideas.

On the issue of hiring, experts estimate that 70 per cent of jobs are filled through networking; in other words, “friends and acquaintances hiring other trusted friends and acquaintances,” Matt Youngquist, the president of Career Horizons, said on NPR. BIPOC journalists certainly bring those kinds of contacts, but there’s also nothing stopping current senior leaders from expanding their own networks. I’ve been to dozens of journalism mixers, panels and events focused on diversity and attended by talented BIPOC journalists and promising students, but I rarely see white newsroom leaders who have hiring influence show up to make some new connections. It’s not the responsibility of a diversity and inclusion committee or BIPOC staff to hand over their contacts list.

I’ve been to dozens of journalism mixers, panels and events focused on diversity and attended by talented BIPOC journalists and promising students, but I rarely see white newsroom leaders who have hiring influence show up to make some new connections.

Of course, creating an environment where interesting ideas can surface means moving the editorial lens from a white-majority focus to an inclusive one. Which audience are you framing this for? Who is being left out and why? And how can we shift them to the centre? Again, this is not solely the realm of BIPOC staff, but of all newsroom staff.

CBC News, where I work now, is piloting a project to track diversity in our content. Early data from one show confirms the tendency to speak to a racialized person about racialized issues, rather than interviewing someone with a strong point of view or experience who happens to be BIPOC.

Put another way, instead of contacting an imam only when his mosque is vandalized or a Black business owner only to discuss racism, ask them for their thoughts on tax increases or the NHL season restarting during the pandemic to broaden how the audience sees themselves and to ensure the lived experiences of these communities are reflected back to them.

As this kind of news-gathering approach becomes status quo, the perspectives and stories that flow into the wider media landscape can then create more trust and support for the industry as a whole.

Source: Normalizing diversity in newsrooms is how we’ll tackle racial equity in the media

Desmond Cole’s book sparked deep conversations among teachers about racism. Where is the introspection in media?

I expect part of the reason has to do with the shrinking newsrooms and employment insecurity compared to the stable number of teachers and job security that provide more time for these discussions:

If there’s one thing The Skin We’re In by Desmond Cole makes clear, it is how integral racism is to Canadian life. It winds its way through the justice system, military decisions, child welfare, the education system and of course, the media, and leaves in its wake a trail of destruction for many, but particularly cruelly for Black, First Nations, Inuit and Métis people.

The burden of educating society always falls on those with the least — not just the least amount of wealth but the least social capital, too. The people society is accustomed to ignoring have to make themselves heard, be taken seriously and then force a change in behaviour. This is gargantuan cross-generational work, and Cole’s national bestseller, much like Robyn Maynard’s Policing Black Lives, is also an ode to that resistance.

One example of that resistance, the work of influencing change, that The Skin We’re In inspired, was a series of conversations among Ontario teachers.

Colinda Clyne, an Anishinaabe woman and curriculum lead at the Upper Grand District School Board, had read the book and appreciated how Cole wove together colonial history and anti-Indigenous racism with anti-Black racism. “There are many great resources to support one or the other, but not often together, and rarely with the Canadian context,” she said. Late in March, she sent out feelers to see if fellow teachers would be interested in a discussion based on this book, expecting a discussion involving about 10 people.

Instead, she ended up hosting a weekly panel titled “Anti-Racist Educator Reads” on VoicEd Radio, an educational broadcast/podcast site, with more than 500 listeners on the fifth and final week, May 13, that featured Cole himself. (For those who missed the discussions, the episodes are online.)

The people tuning in, Clyne said, were “mostly white educators with thoughtful reflections on the learning and unlearning they were doing with the book and our conversations, and the actions they were willing to commit to. It gave me a boost of hope for this anti-racism work in a way that I have not felt in a long time.”

The discussions ran deep, including the impact of police presence in schools, how Canada’s “humble colonialism” plays out in society and schools, what ignorance on racism looks like and the easily dismissed but vital role of anger to bring about change.

A sketch note by educator Debbie Donksy of a panel discussion of Anti-Racist Educator Reads that aired April 22 on VoicEd Radio in which curriculum lead Colinda Clyne hosted Camille Logan, a superintendent of education, and Kevin Rambally, a social worker and former chair of Pride Toronto.

I listened with envy to these conversations between Clyne and other leaders in anti-racism education from various Ontario school boards such as Debbie Donsky, Pamala Agawa, Melissa Wilson, Tisha Nelson and Camille Logan.

The education system is nowhere near where it should be in terms of nurturing all students with care. But teachers are at least engaging in these critical and uncomfortable reflections. Clyne also seeks an action that teachers can commit to. While I’m not one to pat people for being at the “at least it’s a start!” stage, I raise it to make the point that other sectors are not even there.

A case in point is my own industry. Journalists are duty bound to demand accountability — but this is rarely focused inward. Race and attendant issues are an extra or an “inclusion” issue, maybe even as a new-fangled lens of discussion that could bring in new audiences. It’s why solutions look like hiring a journalist of colour or two, using images of racialized people to suggest representation or speaking to a few sources of colour.

As a journalist, Cole makes extensive references to media in his book. Of course, he mentions his fallout with the Toronto Star. His blunt reporting on CBC and CTV reporters’ rude — and chiefly arrogant — questioning of Indigenous elders and activists at a 2017 press conference on the inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls in Canada (MMIWG), should at least make every journalist squirm.

But I don’t hear of critical inquiry-based collective reflections in newsrooms based on that or on Cole’s highly contextualized reporting of Black Lives Matter shutting down the Pride Parade in 2016. For instance, “What role did white supremacy play in guiding our coverage on it?”

Or, “Did media, with our overwhelming whiteness, have the authority or even a balanced perspective in declaring the MMIWG inquiry’s conclusion of genocide as wrong?” Or, “Whose voices did we privilege in the Wet’suwet’en pipeline protests?”

No, journalists are supposed to be a bunch of eye-rolling cynics, the know-it-alls above self-reflection. There are, after all, “real” crises to be dealt with every day. Discussions on racism are usually held among journalists of colour, on the sidelines to the main business of journalism. In newsroom after newsroom, these journalists tell me, they struggle to be heard.

That explains why it’s taken weeks after Canada was hit by the global pandemic for media to start waking up to who was most badly hit — Indigenous and racialized people — and that too after relentless advocacy by rights groups and by the bravery of those risking everything to tell their stories.

In education, too, one of the issues raised through the VoicEd Radio episodes, “are the barriers constantly put in place in our systems, a big one being denial of white supremacy and that folks ‘aren’t ready’ to have the conversations and do the work of anti-racism,” Clyne said.

It’s worth reflecting, across sectors, on who these folks who aren’t ready are, and why, when lives are at stake, we feel compelled to wait for them at all.

Source: Shree ParadkarDesmond Cole’s book sparked deep conversations among teachers about racism. Where is the introspection in media?

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.


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 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