Nadia Stewart is the executive director of Canadian Association of Black Journalists. Anita Li is the co-founder of the Canadian Journalists of Colour.
For much of 2020, the Canadian Association of Black Journalists and Canadian Journalists of Colour were engaged in conversations about change. Our discussions with close to two dozen newsrooms across Canada began last Jan. 28 after CABJ and CJOC released our Calls to Action, seven steps we believe our industry must take in order to achieve true equity. Media startups, educators and unions, as well as individual journalists, were among the first to respond to our widely circulated calls. Establishment media, however, did not respond – at least not until the murder of George Floyd, a 46-year-old Black man who was killed by the Minneapolis police in May, 2020, sparked global protests about racial inequality.
Over all, these ongoing meetings have been fruitful and productive, though not entirely without feelings of frustration on the part of CABJ and CJOC. While some outlets are making real progress, others are still struggling to walk the walk. One particular area where industry leaders across the board have failed to make bold, meaningful change is in the hiring and promoting of journalists of colour, specifically in management, where the deficit of racialized journalists in leadership positions remains a glaring gap. Another commonality among the outlets we’ve engaged is that nearly all of them have asked us the same question: How do we compare with everyone else? This is both difficult and easy to answer.
It’s difficult because “success” depends on where your newsroom started, so if your team has made measurable progress since committing to our Calls to Action, you’re on the right track. That said, several Canadian outlets have made concrete efforts to honour at least one of our calls, but we’ve dissuaded them from prematurely making any grand announcements until they have actual results to show. Here’s a sampling of these high-potential initiatives that – if followed through – could serve as strong examples for the rest of Canada’s journalism industry.
One major local newspaper is reimagining its community advisory board by co-creating the board’s mission and framework with the community leaders of colour they’ve invited to participate. The newspaper also plans to compensate these leaders, as well as periodically change up the makeup of the board so as not to tokenize any one member. Endorsed by the paper’s editor-in-chief, and led by an editorial manager and three rank-and-file staffers, the board is also thinking through how to ensure its recommendations actually inform editorial coverage.
One national broadcaster created an internal tool that measures inclusion, with the goal of weaving critical diversity data into every facet of its news operation. Right now, the broadcaster is determining how to measure success in its inclusive newsroom program, as well as the impact of inclusivity on its journalism. Certain departments were already measuring diversity in their content, but the broadcaster wanted to create something more universal across all departments. Before moving forward with measurement company-wide, however, it plans to conduct a pilot and assess the results first.
Other initiatives include a national newspaper bringing in eight young journalists of colour as contract summer hires, five of whom are now on staff. In addition, student-led initiatives have driven the creation of a new scholarship for racialized students and courses focused on reporting on the Black community, while independent, digital media outlets continue to lead the way when it comes to delivering nuanced, community-driven coverage of underrepresented groups.
On the whole, however, Canadian newsrooms still aren’t getting to the heart of the frustration felt by so many journalists of colour. We know this because of the stories that are still surfacing, from both recent news reports and informal conversations with racialized staffers, of toxic working environments and tone-deaf leadership. The question “how do we compare with everyone else?” is easy to answer because every outlet’s progress is incremental when compared with the actual change needed to achieve true equity. The ultimate litmus test is trust. But when there’s virtually a complete absence of trust, when you’re starting from close to zero, trust-building takes time. That’s why there’s still much work to be done, and why CABJ and CJOC are still committed to working with newsrooms to get it done.
At RISE, our organizations’ inaugural joint conference on May 1, we hope to showcase examples from Canadian newsrooms of genuine leadership in equity and anti-racism. But we must first see concrete proof of that leadership.
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