Canadian journalists address racial reckoning in the country’s newsrooms

by | Nov 20, 2020 | Campus News, Headlines, News, North

Media leaders attended a Humber College online virtual symposium on Nov. 9 to discuss the “racial reckoning” in newsrooms across Canada.

Journalists in the field shared personal experiences of racism within the newsroom, taking a stand against the systemic racism rooted in mainstream media and what newsrooms are doing to combat workplace discrimination.

Irene Gentle, the Editor of the Toronto Star, took it one step further to remove systemic racial barriers in the workplace by introducing a new role that has not been in newsrooms across the country.

Humber College hosted a conference on racism in the newsroom on Nov 9, 2020. (Kelly Roche)

“What we have done is create an internal ombud, which is somebody that anybody in our newsroom can go to if they have a concern about the journalism we are doing in regards to cultural sensitivity,” Gentle said.

She recently appointed Shree Paradkar, a diversity columnist with two Amnesty International awards for social justice reporting, as the Canadian news industry’s first internal ombud for BIPOC journalists.

“People need a voice. It became very clear that people needed an outlet and a voice, and it needed to be done in a structured, systemic way because the barriers are systemic,” Gentle said.

The symposium, organized by the journalism program in the Faculty of Media and Creative Arts, attracted more than 170 registrants for the seven-hour program of panels and presentations. After each forum, students were given opportunities to ask questions and engage with professionals within the field.

Paradkar’s office at the Star provides a safe space for BIPOC journalists to speak up about editorial-related discrimination and intensity if they don’t feel comfortable with bringing it to the editors directly.

Even the language used by the news media to describe diverse communities has been “particularly slow to catch up because there’s a lack of diverse voices in news organizations,” Paradkar said.

Some leaders in Canadian media have taken it upon themselves to call out racism in newsrooms and push for greater media staff diversity.

Adrian Harewood, a CBC news anchor in Ottawa, has been among those leading the change campaign. For decades Harewood has challenged mainstream media to be more diverse.

“In 2016, I was being contacted by a journalist from Canadaland to speak up about the lack of diversity amongst staff at the CBC Radio Canada. I spoke up to acknowledge the problem not just at CBC but across the industry,” he said in a keynote address.

“At that time, the journalist told me I was one of the few people to speak on the record about the chronic issues of underrepresentation of racialized individuals at all levels of Canada media,” Harewood said.

When it comes to reporting on racialized communities, Humber journalism students were reminded BIPOC reporters shouldn’t be the only ones reporting on diverse communities. White reporters should also need to take the initiative to know the people within their community.

“The burden of reporting BIPOC stories needs to pass on to white journalists,” Mahnoor Yawar, a producer at CityNews and a Humber grad.

“There are many upcoming white journalists in this room, and you have to get to know other communities. You have to get to know the communities that make up your city. You need to be just as good as BIPOC reporters,” Yawar said.