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💡 Highlight: White newsrooms and Black Journalism with Brian Daly

💡 Highlight: White newsrooms and Black Journalism with Brian Daly
Original Photo Credit: Matthew Byard
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Sandra Hannebohm
Sandra Hannebohm Halifax, NS
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Brian Daly, former director of the Canadian Association of Black journalists, lead J-school Noire, a journalism camp for high school students. He's currently an assistant professor at the University of King's college.

Listen to the highlights.

Brian Daly has spent almost 30 years in print and television journalism. He is the former director of the Canadian Association of Black Journalists where he ran J-school Noire, a journalism camp for high school students. He was also an integral part of the CBC African Nova Scotian unit which amplified Black voices throughout the province. He's currently an assistant professor at King's college, the fourth highest rated journalism program in the country. In this conversation we explore the lack of representation of Black people in the creation of news media, the potential of Black communities to incite change, and the importance of mentorship for aspiring journalists of colour.

A brief history of newsroom diversity

An old British institutional building is shown as a paper cut out.

Sandra: The first time I set foot in the legislative library at Province House was also the last. I didn't have to spend much time there because I had come for a list of Black members of the legislature.

In 2013 I asked the legislative librarian if she had a list, and she looked back at me as if I had personally insulted her—why would we collect that information? So I told her, I'm doing research on the legislature and I think I know who they are because at the time there were only five, but I want to check the official record so I know I didn't miss someone in history. She said, "tell me the names on your list, and I'll tell you if that's right." So, there's no place where I can find a list of African Nova Scotian MLAs in history?

She offered that one of the Black historical societies would know, but no. No official record. She said, "this is a democracy. We can't make elected members of the legislature submit their race on the ballot." And from the look on her face, it was obvious she was trying to tell me—a Black woman—that would be racist.

This is an age old trend in Canada, colour blindness. Not just between individuals, but in the systems that count ballots, design the census, and keep our history records.

A black and white photo of an old newsroom with six white men working at their desks on typewriters.

Now think back to the 1970s, when the American society of newspaper editors pledged to do a nationwide census of newsrooms and to keep publishing the census every year until racial parity with the population is reached. They continue to do these reports today, because the goal has never been reached.

In 1994, the Canadian daily newspaper association surveyed 82 newsrooms. One of the people who conducted those surveys wrote that newsroom diversity had actually declined by 2004, and the struggle to get newsrooms to agree to do the survey was worse than in 1994.

This is a quote from his article, called "White newsroom history repeats":

When I surveyed Canadian newspaper newsrooms... asking who worked there by race and gender, more than half of them refused to tell me. One managing editor scrawled on the questionnaire, 'Frankly, I find these questions insulting.'

In 2021, the Canadian Association of Journalists conducted the first ever representative survey of diversity in media. They got responses from 209 out of more than 600 news outlets, or 32% of the total newsrooms in the country.

In 8 out of 10 newsrooms there wasn't even one Black journalist.

(The latest 2023 diversity report from CAJ reports: "There is still an alarming number of newsrooms that employ no journalists who are a visible minority or Indigenous. For example, about half of the newsrooms that participated in this survey employed no Black or Indigenous journalists and over half of the newsrooms employed no Middle Eastern or Latin journalists". Of those, more than half work at CBC or Radio-Canada.)

The report concluded that the typical Canadian newsroom is not representative of the Canadian population. After all, the value that appeared most frequently for race in newsrooms was 100% white.

The need for support networks

J-School Noire Students from the 2020 cohort, from the CABJ website.

Sandra: When we spoke earlier, you had mentioned that most journalists do have some form of support, whether that's financial [like] through inherited wealth or support networks, in an emotional way. I've always had support and emotional way. I talked to people who are working with others who have the ambition, have the motivation and the drive, but they don't have people who support them. And that's huge. You don't need money for that.

"We talk to media companies, we see that there are people in the media right now who don't think highly of Blacks."

Brian: No, but Sandra, you know, one of the things is, we can get a bit into the nuances of why we have an under-representation problem, like you had talked about in your introduction, at the Canadian Association of Black journalists we deal with this. We talk to media companies, we see that there are people in the media right now who don't think highly of Blacks. There is institutional racism. We've seen it. I can give you all kinds of examples of it right now. Not amongst old, white people [but] younger white people. Some of them still don't have a high opinion of Blacks, and they're the ones who are going to be running the industry in the next ten, fifteen years.

The Canadian Association of Black Journalists and J-school Noire

Brian Daly with J-School Noire Students from the 2020 cohort, from CABJ's website.

Sandra: How did you end up getting involved in J-school Noire at the CABJ?

Brian: It all started with a racist incident that didn't involve me. It involved a young reporter from Toronto named Nadia Stewart who had been plunked down into St. John's Newfoundland about seven or eight years ago to work as a reporter. She was walking to work and two white women were walking in front of her and she overheard one of them use the N-word. The other one looked over her shoulder to see the Nadia was walking behind them, and she whispered to her friend, "you can't say that, there's a Black woman right behind us!" And the white woman who said it went, "yeah? I'll say it again." And she said it again. So that was a walk to work one day, and now she's [Nadia is] supposed to put in eight hours and do a good job. So she realized that it's Newfoundland, she doesn't have any Black people to talk to, so that was where she decided that she was going to get involved with the CABJ.

She became executive director of the organization. It had been dormant for a bit, so she revived it, and then I got an email—a survey.

I got a survey asking a bunch of questions about how I'd like to see the CABJ, what kind of services I would like, and I was there when it was founded! It was founded on Ryerson's campus in 1996 (now Toronto Metropolitan University), my graduating year. So I was a witness to history—a fly on the wall—and I'd been involved on and off, so it was amazing when the survey came in.

Then another email came into me from Nadia Stewart and David Thurston, a CBC correspondent in Ottawa. The two of them, were going to relaunch and they needed somebody on the east coast.

"Black communities are national, not just local and regional."

Nadia has spent her whole career outside Toronto, even though she's from Toronto. So she's not a typical Torontonian. David Thurston, he worked here in Halifax, so he had a heart for Halifax. Thank God that this incarnation of the CABJ was with people who had worked in the rest of Canada and understood that our Black communities are national, not just local and regional.

So Nadia had crafted a whole curriculum specifically geared towards high school students and teaching Black high school students about journalism.

She had crafted this as part of her postgraduate work, and she just handed this thing to me already done and said, "Brian, could you implement this on the ground in Halifax? Let's make Halifax the pilot project for this."

Mentorship is key for Black journalists

Sandra: I want to ask you, what is your advice for new and aspiring journalists of colour?

Brian: It's critical to have mentors. We have a system in Quebec called CEGEP, which is kind of like a hybrid of community college and prep school for university. So I attended a good one called John Abbott, and it had the only journalism instructor in Quebec, his name was Ernest Tucker. He was the first Black graduate of Ryerson. He was the first Black journalist at the CBC. This was way before I was born, so I didn't even know at the time, I just knew it was this really laid back guy from Bermuda who smoked a lot.

And he became my mentor, and because he was an alumni of Ryerson, he wrote a recommendation letter. That got me into Ryerson. He's the reason why I got into Ryerson. He took it upon himself that when there were Black students in the class, he did give us a little extra attention. He was asking us, what do we want to do? And when I said I wanted to be a journalist is when he must have clued in [and thought] okay, let me help this guy get in.

"He took it upon himself that when there were Black students in the class, he did give us a little extra attention."

So you need mentors. Those of us who have that experience and ability to be mentors, it's on us to seek out young Black people and mentor them.