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🔊 Canada's Newsroom Diversity Problem

🔊 Canada's Newsroom Diversity Problem
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Sandra Hannebohm
Sandra Hannebohm Halifax, NS
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I asked what problems you see in traditional media and here are the takeaways. Plus, I share some research on the state of diversity in news media in Canada (spoiler: it isn't good) and what the history of Black Nova Scotia press says about media today.

Skip the read and just listen.

Many of you were part of the first round of interviews I did when I was testing the waters to see what was needed in the black media space. Your answers helped me figure out what to focus on: human-centred stories that go beyond the headline.

Here’s what you said to the question, “What are the problems you see in traditional media?”

But the biggest takeaway was that every single one of you independently shared these two observations…

You’re depending on word of mouth to fill in the blanks left by traditional media, and there isn’t enough journalism by and for black people.

(If you didn’t get to participate in the interviews I’d still love to hear what you think. To sign up for an interview, find a time on my schedule that works for you).

To most of us this is no surprise.

I’ve done a lot of research on Canadian news, and just last week I gave a presentation arguing that waiting for traditional (white) media to include black journalism in a meaningful way is futile.

And I had stats to back that up.

Newsrooms refusing to disclose diversity statistics

There is so much willful ignorance about the diversity of newsrooms that people in Canada and the U.S. have been trying for over 40 years just to find out how many people of colour work in them, and it wasn’t until last year that enough answered a survey by the Canadian Association of Journalists to get representative results–32 per cent of the newsrooms in the country.

When they did finally answer that 2020 survey–surprise, surprise–the CAJ found that most often, they were “100 per cent white.” They found not one single black journalist in 8 out of 10 newsrooms. That’s not to say that the remaining 2 out of 10 newsrooms had impressive diversity stats. That means even the remaining 20 per cent might have had only one black journalist on staff.

But there is a Canadian province that has a tradition of more than 100 years of black-owned news media where I was born, and where I live today. Nova Scotia.

While I was at the conference where I gave that presentation, someone in the audience asked a question. They asked if I could say more about working as a black woman journalist.

Where to start?

Working as a Black woman journalist

A journalist is expected to be both professional and ‘objective,’ even though objectivity is a myth, and professionalism is defined by white standards. Ergo, whatever I write or say, or whatever I do with my hair is necessarily unprofessional according to the dominant culture.

But the first thing that came to mind was that even today, even as independent black media ventures pop up all over Atlantic Canada, there’s no news media in Nova Scotia owned and operated by a black woman. To my knowledge, there hasn’t been one since Carrie Best started The Clarion in 1946.

Do I have to tell you who Carrie Best is? I will, briefly, just in case, and also because she is the person I look up to when I ask myself, “why are you doing this”?

The Clarion was founded by a woman who didn’t take shit. When she heard a class of high school girls were kicked out of Roseland Theatre for sitting in the whites-only section, she too went to sit in that section, and refused to move. They physically removed her from the theatre, and when she took the case to court arguing that it was a violation of human rights, she lost. But she didn’t stop. Instead, she started The Clarion.

Multiple people had been through the same injustice long before Viola Desmond took her seat; she was a business woman, a caregiver, and a pillar of the community but in that sense, she was not unique. What propelled this issue forward was the fact that another black business woman, who had experienced the same injustice, supported and amplified her cause through media she owned, in a time when traditional (white) media wouldn’t have touched it with a ten-foot pole.

When I question why I put myself out here to be criticized as a social justice warrior, or an un-objective journalist, I remember this story of how two black women, by supporting each other, not taking bullshit, and sharing their stories, inspired millions to insist on creating a better world for the rest of us.

This world has improved greatly since 1946, but if you live within a black body, you probably know it still has such a long way to go.

So let’s keep it going.

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