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public editor

Five years ago, I tallied the photos in the pages of The Globe and Mail and wondered why so few women and visible minorities appeared there.

That year, women appeared as a main subject in a daily average of 27 per cent of photos – even in a month that included International Women’s Day. At the time, I said The Globe should make a greater effort to think outside the box, beyond the obvious photo subjects of world and business leaders, and reflect more broadly upon issues-oriented coverage.

In the years since, I expanded the review to include authors, main subjects and sources and took a closer look at the representation of racialized people. In those years, The Globe introduced internal programs to monitor and increase the diversity of subjects in photos and stories and worked with outside groups in a concerted effort to improve those stats.

There was improvement over the four years, especially in photos – less so in other areas.

There are caveats to such a study, like not always knowing someone’s ethnicity, especially when it comes to wire service journalists; identity is a personal matter, and you don’t always know how someone self-identifies. Most Western leaders are non-racialized men. All but one of Canada’s premiers are men again – after a period when British Columbia, Alberta and Ontario were led by women. Business leaders are predominantly men, and this year much of the focus of sports photos was hockey news – again, overwhelmingly white men. And the study was of a moment in time – four weeks’ worth of the paper.

Two years ago, my survey found that 36 per cent of photos featured women. Of the men, about 16 per cent were visibly BIPOC; of the women, about 10 per cent. Last year’s numbers were similar.

But this year I expected to see an improvement, especially with BIPOC representation, and there was a significant uptick even in photos. This year saw women featured in 38 per cent of photos (a number that would be higher were it not for all the hockey photos in sports). The representation of diversity also improved, with 14 per cent of the men and 36 per cent of the women being racialized people.

Two years ago, among reporters and writers, 32 per cent were women and only 4 per cent of both women and men were racialized people.

Representation of writers showed some improvement this year, with women accounting for 34 per cent, and here again diversity improved, with 10 per cent of the men and 26 per cent of the women racialized.

The Saturday Opinion section really leads the way both in terms of representation of writers and covering the broad issues of society. This section includes five staff columnists but also many outside voices of experts and journalists.

In the four Saturdays I included in the study this year, 40 per cent of the writers were women. Of the men, 31 per cent were BIPOC; of the women, 46 per cent.

In terms of authors and writers, journalism has not been a diverse profession, although many organizations such as The Globe are stepping up efforts to hire and attract journalists who better reflect Canada today.

Unfortunately, the industry as a whole has suffered with layoffs in the past year, hitting the young and racialized disproportionately. Earlier this month, J-Source, the Canadian Journalism project confirmed that 1,269 permanent journalism jobs were lost during the pandemic.

On main subjects and sources, the study’s numbers reflected the composition of our institutions more than of our population. Two years ago, 28 per cent of story subjects were women. Among sources, 10 per cent of the men were racialized, as were 10 per cent of the women.

This year saw a big jump, with women accounting for 34 per cent of subjects. When it came to sources, 26 per cent of the men were racialized, while 41 per cent of the women were.

That speaks to a real effort to attract a range of voices and better reflect our country by relying more on issues than on institutional coverage.

In the past year, we have seen not only important coverage of Indigenous and race issues, but also more coverage of health and pandemic issues – where women and racialized people have taken on leadership roles – as well as a special series on the power gap between men and women.

Journalists must find a balance between covering the news of the day and going beyond it to examine structural issues in our society. The job is not just to follow what is happening, but to take the lead in discussions to make our society more equitable.

There has been real progress on the diversity of voices, thinking and coverage, but more needs to be done.

Editor’s note: (April 5, 2021): An earlier version of this article incorrectly said none of the premiers were female. In fact, Caroline Cochrane is premier of the Northwest Territories.