A reader wrote to me this week on the lack of racial diversity in photos, especially in Saturday’s Globe.
She noted that the front section “contained exactly two photos in total of non-white people: in the photo accompanying the Mandela article, and in the photo accompanying the article about high-school cafeteria food. Basically two completely stereotypical places to see ‘ethnic’ faces (eating fried chicken and ... at a funeral procession for The Famous Black Man). The author photos, the front page, the Canada Post article, the new CEO of the Pan Am Games...all lily white….
“I do not expect to see cover to cover never-ending diversity, but this seems ridiculous and certainly doesn’t reflect the Canadian population.”
She is absolutely right that the overall selection of photos doesn’t reflect the diversity of Canada. There were a few other photos showing diversity, notably in Style and The Report on Business, but basically the ratio for individual photos (not groups) was 10 whites to 1 visible minority. For women, it was also well below the breakdown of Canada with more than a third but less than half of the photos containing women.
The true breakdown of our population is about an equal number of women and men and on diversity, the new Canadian voluntary survey (replacing the census) says about one in five Canadians self identify as visible minorities.
Of course photo selection is not about reflecting demographics. The photos are there to illustrate stories. So the fact that there was a big hockey feature, a feature on Fort Mckay First Nations battling with the oil sands industry, and a news stories on the upcoming funeral for Nelson Mandela are factors that affect the choice of photographs.
The leaders of our governments, from municipal to federal, tend to be male rather than female (and less diverse), so those photos naturally are used more often.
The news leads to certain photos on certain days. But when some photos are obvious choices, such as the Mandela funeral, the difficult story of hazing with the young hockey player or the profile of David O. Russell, other areas allow photo editors to be more creative and show greater diversity.
You see that in the Style section where a feature shows a small photo of a white runway model wearing a cape and a large photo showing a more practical version of the look shot by The Globe that chooses a black woman as a model.
While that was admirable, the reader is right that a great effort must be paid to reflecting our nation’s diversity in the articles and the photographs on an ongoing basis.
Dr. Wendy Cukier, Ryerson University’s Vice-President of Research and Innovation, has studied, researched and written on diversity in the workplace and diversity in the media. She makes an excellent point about thinking about diversity wherever possible. One thing she has said in the past, is why do news organizations always run photos of white hands? It’s a good question.
It means thinking about diversity wherever and whenever you can.
If you would like to contact me you can do so at PublicEditor@globeandmail.com