Calls grow for news outlets reporting on systemic racism to address own failures

Of note. Ironically, and perhaps not surprising, on Wednesday, watched a Star panel on equity. Including the moderating, 4 women, 1 man, 4 visible minorities, much more diverse than others I have watched:

Journalists have not had to go far to uncover searing stories of racism in Canada — they’re finding them in their own newsrooms, among their co-workers and involving their bosses.

All while reporters increasingly turn their attention to detailing institutional discrimination in nearly all other facets of society, including justice, politics, health care and education.

For the similarly flawed media industry, a long-standing problem has suddenly become harder to ignore: Many outlets striving to inform the public of widespread racial bias do so with stories that are assigned, reported and analyzed by predominantly white editorial staff.

The not-so-surprising result? They’re failing, say industry watchers and a growing number of staff members risking their jobs to speak out. And while many media organizations are expressing renewed commitments to diversify their newsrooms and coverage, those journalists say it will take more than pledges to create meaningful change.

A SERIES OF MISSTEPS

Revelations have emerged in recent weeks of racial indignities suffered at multiple news outlets, where current and former employees are attempting to lift the curtain on how and why tensions persist.

Corus Entertainment faced a public lashing by rank-and-file staff over claims of toxic workplaces for people of colour; the National Post endured a newsroom revolt over contentious columns that denied the existence of systemic racism in Canada; CBC suspended and disciplined star Wendy Mesley for twice quoting a racial slur in editorial meetings and CBC Radio’s “Yukon Morning” host Christine Genier resigned over the lack of Indigenous representation in Canadian media.

While there might be an increase in the number of on-air personalities who are people of colour, that’s not an accurate measure of success, says diversity consultant and former journalist Hamlin Grange, whose firm DiversiPro Inc. was recently hired by Corus Entertainment to review its operations.

“It’s the people who are behind the scenes, the decision-makers that really matter and that’s where the media in this country have failed.”

It’s not for lack of trying, of course.

Over the years, there have been recruitment efforts, training sessions, and diversity pledges, just as there have been in other business sectors.

But anything that fails to dismantle systemic and structural barriers are superficial measures that don’t achieve meaningful change, says Brian Daly of the Canadian Association of Black Journalists.

MORE EFFECTIVE SOLUTIONS

The CABJ and Canadian Journalists of Colour have partnered for a joint call to action that includes: regular disclosure of newsroom demographics, more representation and coverage of racialized communities (in part through hiring), and proactive efforts to seek, retain and promote Black and Indigenous journalists and journalists of colour to management positions.

They also suggest regular consultation with racialized communities on news coverage, identifying and addressing systemic barriers, targeted scholarships and mentorship opportunities, and encouraging journalism schools to lay the groundwork with diverse faculty and more focus on how to cover racialized communities.

Many on the ground agree conditions won’t improve without system-wide changes.

An expressed desire to address diversity is not enough, says TSN’s SportsCentre anchor Kayla Grey, who weathered blowback and sparked a Twitter hashtag when she criticized white freelance journalist Sheri Forde for using the N-word in a Medium blog post that ironically detailed Forde’s efforts at building racial awareness.

“Companies and newsrooms are showing their ass right now,” says Grey, the first Black woman to anchor a national TV sports show in Canada.

“I’m seeing people fumble and it’s clear that they just don’t have those voices in those rooms that check them in the first place. Or they might have those voices in the room, they might have that representation, but are they listening clearly to those voices? And have those voices felt empowered to speak out about such issues?”

THE IMPACT ON STAFF

The National Post met condemnation both within and outside of its newsroom for several inflammatory commentaries, most notably one from Rex Murphy on June 1 that declared, “Canada is not a racist country.” The online link now features an apology for “a failure in the normal editing oversight” and points readers to a rebuttal by Financial Post writer Vanmala Subramaniam.

Nevertheless, Murphy defended the piece in another column June 16 and Post founder Conrad Black added his denials of systemic racism in columns June 20 and 27, the latter of which dismissed the current reckoning with racial injustice and systemic racism as an “official obsession” causing “an absurd displacement for other concerns.”

A few frustrated staffers began withholding bylines from their own stories shortly after that first Black column, growing to involve more as the week wore on.

Editor-in-chief Rob Roberts would not comment on the byline strike, only saying: “We stand by our columnists’ right to state their opinion.”

Phyllise Gelfand, vice-president of communications for Postmedia, says in an emailed statement that the company is revisiting its diversity and inclusion programs and that diversity training for its newsrooms will roll out “immediately.”

Daly says it would be harder to dismiss the lived experiences of Black people if they were welcomed into newsrooms and their leadership.

“Allow people of differing worldviews and differing lived experiences to coexist in a newsroom environment, and then you’re going to get a healthy newsroom,” says Daly, a TV producer for the CBC in Halifax.

Throughout a 25-year career spanning five provinces, Daly has worked at CBC, CTV and Global, plus The Canadian Press and the former QMI Agency, and says he has never had a manager of colour. He recalls just three full-time colleagues who were Black.

NEXT STEPS

In June, the CABJ penned an open letter to Corus Entertainment urging improved supports for Black voices and staff while expressing solidarity “with Black employees at Global News who have grappled with feelings of defeat” over repeated microaggressions.

That was followed last Thursday by another open letter to Corus and its Global News division signed by more than 100 hosts, producers, reporters, editors and camera operators with similar demands. “If we are to expect accountability of others, we must demand it of ourselves,” they wrote.

Corus has hired Grange’s agency, DiversiPro Inc., to review the entire organization, while its executive vice president of broadcast networks, Troy Reeb, says in a statement it’s “acting immediately” at Global News to increase representation, remove systemic barriers to retention and promotion, and consult with marginalized communities on news coverage.

Grange, who wouldn’t discuss details of the review, notes an enduring lack of diversity in the broader media industry when it comes to those who decide which stories are covered and how they’re told.

Entire communities and perspectives are at risk of being ignored or distorted when coverage is filtered through a predominantly white lens, says Daly.

And when that happens, news coverage can effectively uphold the status quo, sustain systemic barriers and actively deepen racial inequities, adds Anita Li of the Canadian Journalists of Colour.

“That’s actually bad for democracy because if people don’t see themselves reflected in the news they’re less likely to vote, to trust their neighbours, to engage civically,” says Li, whose career has included stints with CTV Ottawa, CBC, the Toronto Star and the Globe and Mail.

These are not new problems, she adds, suggesting recent scrutiny rather than genuine insight has spurred some organizations to declare serious plans to address race-related failings.

Li notes the CABJ and CJOC issued their joint calls to action in January but the response from legacy organizations “was crickets.”

“We didn’t hear anything from them until these mass protests started happening,” she says of widespread demonstrations against anti-Black racism and police brutality.

Grange, too, says the majority of his clients have not traditionally been media. But that’s changing.

“Suddenly, we’re getting them. It’s kind of interesting.”

THE GROWING RESPONSE

Despite recent high-profile transgressions, the media industry does appear to be confronting its role in upholding white bias, says Li, pointing to emerging outlets, major media unions and larger organizations that have publicly committed to the calls to action.

She says they include the Toronto Star, the Globe and Mail union, Global News, and the Walrus.

The Canadian Press says it has met with the CABJ and CJOC on the recommendations and is working to ensure it has the proper infrastructure in place to fully enact them.

“I actually feel like there’s genuine traction being made and there’s actual, candid conversations about the barriers that journalists of colour are facing,” says Li.

The conversation is long overdue at the Winnipeg Free Press, editor Paul Samyn wrote July 3 in an opinion piece titled, “An apology for marginalizing people of colour; and a promise to atone for our past.” The article admits the paper has, “at times, been part of the problem, not the solution,” while promising to better reflect and serve marginalized communities.

Measures there include the addition of four full-time reporters of colour, a special news project examining race and racism, and plans to close online commenting as of July 14 because it too-often served as a magnet for racist commentary.

Li acknowledges that dwindling ad revenues, dropping readership and fragmented audiences amid a plethora of free online competitors make it financially difficult for many outlets.

But investing in diversity and inclusion pays off in the long run, she says, noting Canada’s immigrant and racialized population is growing.

“So you’re just increasingly missing a bigger and bigger portion of Canadian society,” she says of ignoring change.

“Sooner or later these folks, these communities that are being overlooked, are going to go to alternative sources of media.”

Li encourages journalists and outlets to guard against feeling defensive when forced to acknowledge failures.

“For me it’s about calling them in, not calling them out,” says Li.

“The only way we can solve this issue is collaboratively together, with all hands on deck. It’s not just the responsibility of people of colour or journalists of colour. It’s the responsibility of the entire industry.”

Source: Calls grow for news outlets reporting on systemic racism to address own failures

‘Plain cruel’: Vanuatu stops newspaper chief boarding plane home after China stories

Another reminder of the influence of China:

The media director of a Vanuatu newspaper whose visa renewal was refused this month has been barred from flying home to Vanuatu from Brisbane with his partner.

Dan McGarry, who has lived in Vanuatu for 16 years, applied to have his work permit renewed earlier this year but it was rejected. McGarry believes his visa was refused due to articles he had published about China’s influence in Vanuatu.

In July the Daily Post broke the story of Vanuatu deporting six Chinese nationals – four of whom had obtained Vanuatu citizenship – without due process or access to legal counsel.

McGarry said he was “quite confident” it was that series of reports which had upset the government.

McGarry, who is Canadian, left the country to attend a forum in Brisbane on media freedom in Melanesia, at which leading journalists and the editors from the region spoke about attacks on journalistic freedom in the region and discussed his case in detail.

Newsrooms not keeping up with changing demographics, study suggests

Likely not but not sure that focussing on columnists is the best measure of whether or not diversity is improving or not.

The analysis would also benefit from examining diversity in J-schools to see how that has changed over time:

Over the past two decades, as Canada’s demographics have shifted, news organizations have failed to reflect the country’s increasing diversity in both content and staffing.

Research on media coverage of race-related stories on politics from scholars like University of Toronto professor Erin Tolleyhas highlighted how far newsrooms have still to go.

But in Canada, most print and digital news organizations have resisted processes to examine their staffing. The conversation on the impact of industry job losses on newsroom diversity cannot advance until fundamental questions about staffing numbers are answered.

Our new study aims to fill in important information about newsroom staffing by showing how the demographics of national newspaper columnists compare to the increasing diversity of the Canadian population.

When it comes to news, who makes the decisions behind the scenes is just as important as whose byline is on the front page.

While Canadian broadcasters are federally mandated to report on their workforce demographics, newspapers and digital publications have no such requirement. In the United States, several national news organizations, including the New York Timesand BuzzFeed, have begun self-reporting the race and gender make-up of their newsrooms.

The American Society of News Editors (ASNE) has been conducting annual diversity studies of major newsrooms since 1978, allowing for the mapping of meaningful trends in how newsrooms hire, retain and promote journalists from diverse backgrounds.

“Counting gives us a starting point,” said Linda Shockley of the Dow Jones News Fund, which uses such demographic data to design training for U.S. journalists, in a recent interview with Poynter.

Racialized journalists drive diversity conversations

Recent conversations around diversity in media have been largely driven by racialized journalists, including the Toronto Star’s Shree Paradkar. Former Globe and Mail reporter Sunny Dhillon wrote about his decision to leave the paper after 10 years, frustrated by a continued editorial pattern of approaching complex stories through a “colour-blind lens.”

Columnist Desmond Cole stopped writing his twice-monthly freelance column for the Toronto Star after the paper’s editorial board editor barred him from his civic activism.

“If I must choose between a newspaper column and the actions I must take to liberate myself and my community, I choose activism in the service of Black liberation,” Cole wrote in a blog post.

There is little data on the breakdown of Black, Indigenous and people of colour (BIPOC) journalists in Canadian newsrooms. In 2004, Ryerson School of Journalism professor emeritus and former Toronto Star editor John Miller relied on voluntary participation for a survey on the demographic makeup of Canadian news organizations.

Some editors returned the survey empty; one scribbled across the page, “I find these questions insulting.” A few years later, Miller and Wendy Cukier, a professor at Ryerson University’s Ted Rogers School of Management, examined visible minority leadership at Toronto media organizations by using publicly available information and having it reviewed by researchers trained in employment equity.

Publications such as Canadaland (in 2016) and J-Source (in 2014and 2017) have also sought voluntary co-operation from news organizations and individual journalists with limited results.

‘Self-reporting’ offers window into staffing

To address the failure to engage in self-reporting by many Canadian news organizations, our study looks at the section of the newspaper where journalists often self-identify: the op-ed pages. In the process of expressing their perspectives on the issues of our time, columnists often disclose their identities.

We focused on news, city, opinion page and political columnists as they are most likely to shape social and political discussions.

For our 21-year study, we looked at Canada’s three largest publications, the Globe and Mail, the Toronto Star and the National Post, narrowing the scope of our research to include only those who wrote weekly columns or a minimum of 40 columns a year. In the end, we analyzed the work of 89 columnists, beginning in 1998 with the birth of the Post and ending in 2018.

Using terms of self-identification found in the columnists’ own words, in their published work and on their social media posts, we categorized their race and gender by census category.

Examples of self-identification that we found include phrases from columns such as “I, for one (old WASP),” “I, middle-class white lady” and “(as an) affluent white woman.” We then compared the numbers with corresponding census blocks over the 21-year period to chart how closely, along the lines of race and gender, columnists at Canadian newsrooms reflect Canada’s demographics.

In the 1996-2000 census period, white people comprised 88.8per cent of all Canadians, with two per cent Black, 2.8 per centIndigenous, 2.4 per cent South Asian and 3.5 per cent East Asian. By 2016, the numbers changed significantly: white, 77.7 per cent; Black 3.5 per cent; Indigenous 4.9 per cent; South Asian 5.6 per cent; and East Asian 5.4 per cent.

Our preliminary research shows that this demographic shift was not reflected in the makeup of Canadian columnists. Over the 21 years, as the proportion of white people in Canada’s population declined, the representation of white columnists increased.

Between 1998 and 2000, 92.8 per cent of columnists at the Globe and Mail, the Toronto Star and the National Post were white, over-representing corresponding census statistics by four per cent. And during the 2016-18 comparative period, while overall representation of white columnists dropped to 88.7 per cent of the columns pool, those numbers over-represented against the census numbers by 11 per cent.

Over the period of our study, not one of the publications had an Indigenous columnist who appeared regularly. Only three Black men and no Black women met our criteria for columnists.

Upholding trust and accountability

Our preliminary findings are concerning. For more than two decades, the voices that these publications chose to give prominence to did not reflect the perspectives and interests of a large segment of Canada’s population.

Self-reporting on newsroom diversity would encourage a culture of trust and accountability, one that the journalism profession upholds in its role as a watchdog of public institutions.

We are working on the development of a self-reporting tool for Canadian newsrooms, with the hope that such a strategy will be seen by media outlets as an invitation for redress.

After all, it’s impossible for Canada’s newsrooms to address a problem they can’t see. We are concerned that for the many who refuse to co-operate, that just may be the point.

Source: Newsrooms not keeping up with changing demographics, study suggests