Commentary by: George Abraham in Ottawa, ON
ENTREPRENEURIAL journalism sounds deceptively simple to execute. Combine journalism with business acumen … and voilà you have a winner.
Sadly, that is not the way it actually works in real life. It is a long, lonely slog, made even more difficult with the declining economics of Canadian media companies all around. One soon learns that the ability of reporters to break new ground and the ability of editors to present stories in a way that resonates with their audience derives from the financial strength of the parent media organization.
The M-word looms large: monetization. How do you keep the lights on and feed the hungry beast that is your burgeoning editorial budget?
We weren’t daft when a bunch of us embarked on this journey called New Canadian Media. The trend towards newsroom closures and downsizing was already written on the wall. The business model of legacy organizations itself was broken or breaking down before our very eyes. Sure, there were any number of naysayers who saw no point in trying to carve out a niche that portrayed the collective perspective of newcomers to Canada. We were warned that we would be neither “ethnic” nor “mainstream” – a mongrel among media – and that advertisers will make no room for hybrid models like ours because they have niche marketing budgets.
But, it was virgin space in May, 2014, when we launched our portal … and remains so even today.
Our first goal was to demonstrate that we could indeed produce high-quality journalism using largely immigrant talent. We’ve done that in spades. It’s our calling card.
Second, we needed to find “seed capital” that would help us convincingly demonstrate the strength of NCM’s original idea. We’ve done that as well. However, as we scaled up, we found the going difficult.
The intervening years since the launch of our site demonstrated not only the endurance of the original idea to represent “the immigrant perspective”, but also to tap into a rich vein of journalism talent that remains largely unexplored in Canada. But, in addition to pioneering a new form of journalism, we went against the grain in several important respects, all in an effort to buck the trend and improve the odds.
The original idea
NCM was founded on a rather simple premise: waves of immigrants continue to reshape this country in both visible and invisible ways. For visible signs, look no further than the sushi restaurant in your neighbourhood, turbans in the RCMP, Canada’s tilt towards the Asia-Pacific driven largely by immigration from that region of the world, ethnic nannies who raise babies for rich Canadians and the entrepreneurial energy that has made this country more prosperous.
While existing media capture the mega-trends, they do a rather poor job of portraying undercurrents and speaking to a new Canada-in-the-making. Our idea was to give voice to the opinion and points-of-view of newcomers, while enabling all Canadians to better appreciate this new perspective.
Jagdeesh Mann, executive editor of the Asian Pacific Post published in English and distributed in downtown Vancouver, has a readership that is as much white as Asian. “Canadians want to know what was happening in the Asian community and Asians want to participate,” Mr. Mann says, adding “food was usually the gateway.”
We, however, went about this in unconventional ways, ensuring that we continually broadened our horizons even while staying true to our core mission of delivering the immigrant perspective. We took great care to avoid creating what media experts call a new, isolationist “silo”, but rather to work with both existing ethnic and mainstream news organizations so our limited dollars did not end up duplicating journalism that was already out there.
There was no template to follow and hence we charted our own course.
Amid a climate of great public mistrust of ‘elites’ in general, and the media in particular, we set ourselves up as a non-profit, with paid members across Canada. When we discovered that our contributors could benefit from training and mentoring, we found the funds to launch a national professional development program. Last year, we broadened this grassroots undertaking to create an NCM Collective, inviting our contributors to band together in a countrywide effort to organize and lend even more heft to their inimitable immigrant voices.
At the same time, the organization has sustained itself on the backs of volunteer directors and pro bono time from members of our editorial board.
By the numbers
We’ve taken great pains to cross language and racial divides to address issues that confront every one of the 200 ethnic communities in Canada. Our range of stories and datelines from cities and towns across the country speak for themselves. It has contributed, dare I say, to giving many an immigrant a greater sense of belonging.
In perhaps our biggest break from tradition, we have consistently fostered a bottom-up journalism that privileges the findings of on-the-ground reporters over the preconceived notions of distant editors. We very rarely dictated a story idea, relying on our formidable network to serve as listening posts in their respective communities. Retaining a reporter’s voice is very important to us. We’ve tried our best not to shoehorn a reporter’s findings into a pre-cooked, nifty headline, or come up with an elegant turn of phrase that may not do full justice to the original sentiment.
Trust me, this has made the editing process a lot more laborious, but it has been surely worth it: it has led to unfiltered, authentic voices from communities across this fabulous country. Copy editors have gone apoplectic at times, but this approach has allowed immigrant journalists to portray the everyday experiences, joys and sorrows of new Canadians, signifying perhaps NCM’s biggest accomplishment to date.
All of this pioneering work has been sustained largely through project-based public funding (roughly $275,000 so far), enabling NCM to demonstrate the calibre and depth of its journalism and showcase the work of a growing roster of new reporters in every province.
Numbers rarely tell the whole story, but here are a few to illustrate our growth and current profile:
Our board of directors believes we are market-ready, and primed to emerge as a media platform in our own right. Towards this end, the board is re-tooling the NCM organization, rethinking our financial and business model, while we revamp our web platform to update several of its key attributes – to ensure that we continue to present the immigrant perspective in all its colour and vibrancy.
We are surely not alone in imagining a different media scene – one that truly reflects Canada in the 21st century. As our good friend and publisher of the Walrus magazine puts it, “If NCM did not already exist, this country would be compelled to invent it.”
George Abraham is NCM’s founder and publisher.
Commentary by: Pradip Rodrigues in Mississauga, ON
Last week the Quebec government released details on how it planned on disbursing $36.4 million to struggling newspapers over the next five years. This money is to help smaller newspapers that are especially hit by a steep ad revenue decline. The idea is to help newspapers make that inevitable digital transition. Print news media will have until Jan. 15 to present their plans and vision for a digital future. Those publishers with foresight will prevail, the rest will simply fold up and fade into the sunset. They don’t call print media a sunset industry for nothing.
This plan would help only legitimate newspapers that can provide proof in black and white that they have devoted their time and energy toward truly supporting and chronicling the life and times in their respective communities.
Federal help not in the cards as yet
Last September, Heritage Minister Mélanie Joly outlined government’s vision for cultural and creative industries in a digital world which would help those in the television industry but it didn’t include the moribund print industry. A federal boost to the Canada Media Fund is set for 2018, to cover the shortfall caused by the drop in money from the private sector.
Late last month, a deal between Torstar Corp. and Postmedia Network Inc. saw them selling newspapers to each other and in the process close 21 of the 22 community newspapers, this costs 244 jobs, many of them professional journalists.
Over the past few years, hundreds of journalists all across north America have lost their jobs as newspapers close down, merge or transition to digital.
Journalists face a bleak future
To be a journalist in the current climate, one may as well be a tech whiz or be able to tweet at great speed. Few newspapers that have transitioned to digital are turning a profit because for some strange reason no one wants to pay for anything on the net and gone are the days when households subscribed to newspapers. In the case of many community newspapers, you can’t get people to pick it up for free.
The only media house in Canada whose future isn’t in jeopardy happens to be CBC a fully taxpayer funded enterprise costing us big bucks- $1.04 billion in 2015 and given the intense competition it faces, an additional $150 million by the end of 2017.
While there is enough justification put out by successive governments why the CBC is important, there have been few who’ve made a case about the importance of keeping community newspapers alive.
There is even less of a case being made in regard to ethnic newspapers in major cities across Canada and that is more a result of short-sightedness on the part of publishers or the fact that many of them start newspapers simply out of spite for a fellow community businessman or to promote themselves or their other real businesses or perhaps even to run for public office one day.
When it comes to South Asian newspapers the situation is comical and often farcical, there are dozens of newspapers some of which exist in name and are published occasionally, others have upto 80 or 90 or even 100 percent of their news that is about India, Bollywood or just lifts from the web. Community news coverage is an after-thought if at all so it is unlikely that a majority of these so-called ethnic publications could qualify for any government help in the near future.
Government help could be too late
It is a matter of time before pressure is brought upon Ontario and other provinces to help out ethnic community newspapers given the large and growing immigrant community. Already there are influential South Asians who are mobilizing to rally for the cause of ethnic community newspapers. Unfortunately or rather fortunately, only a handful of genuine ethnic community newspapers, some of which are on life support will receive government funding. The criteria for receiving these funds would require these newspapers to make a case for their survival and provide proof of being a community newspaper and of course having professional journalists helming these newspapers would help the cause.
Few ethnic newspapers are quality products
I spoke with an influential and politically active South Asian recently on the state of the South Asian ethnic media and he mentioned he could only think of a handful of newspapers worth reading, the rest in his words were ‘garbage.’
Even if Ontario were to follow Quebec’s lead on supporting community newspapers and help them transition to a digital future, it will already have been too late. Hundreds of journalists are been forced to make a humiliating exit from the profession given the reality. Some have taken to writing blogs nobody reads or emails to long lost relatives hoping to be included in their Wills. But for the vast majority of laid-off journalists, the only meaningful writing they’ll do is writing their professional obituaries.
It is harder for community newspapers to ever entice talented journalists to invest their time and talent because they don’t see a future for the newspaper and would either opt for public relations or something online.
When it comes to ethnic newspapers, the situation is even more hopeless. It’s a Catch-22 situation, publishers cannot attract or retain talent because they are either unable or unwilling to pay their writers according to industry and Canadian standards, with the result, the quality of community coverage is minimal or negligible. So even when Ontario decides to spent up to a million dollars on ethnic publication, few if any will qualify. It is harder to manufacture proof of community coverage than it is to fudge circulation figures.
Smart mainstream media houses are meanwhile bolstering coverage of ethnic communities and are hiring token South Asian journalists in the hope that they can be ready for government handouts if and when it comes. Meanwhile ethnic community newspapers across the country with a few exceptions will continue to flounder. Mercifully it won’t be a loss to the community because there is little community news in the first place. By default it will be the big players that will benefit from any provincial or federal financial help. I for one won’t be around when all of that happens.- CINEWS
Republished under arranagement with Canindia News.
Commentary by: Paul Adams in Ottawa
Jagmeet Singh does not yet have a seat in the House of Commons. So when the new NDP leader comes to visit, he’ll have to sit up in the Leader of the Opposition’s Gallery and gaze down on the body he wishes someday to join.
If all the MPs are there that day, Singh may notice that there are already five turbaned Sikh men with seats. In 2015, 47 so-called “visible minority” MPs were elected along with 10 Indigenous people, very nearly mirroring their relative shares of the Canadian population.
If Singh then swings his eyes to the north end of the Commons chamber to the gallery above the Speaker’s Chair — to the Press Gallery, that is — he may notice something different. So far as I am aware, there has never been a turbaned man working as a reporter for a major news organization, so he won’t see any of those.
No one keeps racial statistics on the Press Gallery the way they do for the House of Commons, but when I looked through the membership list the other day, I was able to identify only one visible minority reporter working for one of the big legacy media outlets – a reporter at CTV. None at the Globe, none at the Star, none at CBC-TV. And no Indigenous people either.
This may overstate the case a little bit. Since I was a reporter on the Hill in the 1990s, there has been an influx of young reporters of colour. They tend to be concentrated in online and specialist publications such as HuffPost Canada, the Hill Times, the Aboriginal Peoples’ Television Network (APTN) and some ethnic and foreign news outlets. The so-called Mainstream Media — not so much.
The House of Commons is today much more representative of the face of modern Canada than is the Press Gallery. Most of us can name a few visible minority and Indigenous politicians. Try coming up with more than one or two political journalists of colour.
When Singh was chosen as NDP leader, there were two streams of news coverage, both echoing (in a small way) the reaction to Barack Obama’s breakthrough in 2008. The first was a self-congratulatory celebration of the nation’s inclusivity. The second involved an obsessive concern with the man’s race and ethnicity.
One interview that got a lot of attention was Terry Milewski’s welcome-to-Ottawa interview with Singh on CBC’s Power and Politics. Milewski has never suffered fools gladly and operates on the premise that all politicians are fools until proven otherwise. (Stephen Harper was never able to establish this to Milewski’s satisfaction, so far as I could see.)
Apparently Singh, or his office, had — with stunning naiveté — asked to see the questions in advance. Milewski delightedly tweeted out that fact before Singh backed down. Advantage: Milewski.
A lot of the reaction to Milewski’s interview turned around a “gotcha” section at the end of the interview in which Milewski doggedly asked Singh to denounce posters of Talwinder Singh Parmar, which appear in some Sikh-Canadian institutions. Parmar was a Sikh nationalist who was — it has been well-established — the mastermind behind the Air India bombing in which 329 people were killed, most of them Canadian, many of them of Indian extraction.
For many viewers not steeped in the issue, it must have been a baffling exchange. But few reporters in Canada have covered the Air India bombing and its aftermath more thoroughly than Milewski — and Jagmeet Singh has been deeply engaged in Sikh politics. It may have been a ‘gotcha’ question, but it got Singh, who dodged and weaved but would not be caught denouncing Canada’s worst-ever mass murderer.
Singh is really going to have to do better than this if he wants to lead a national party with any success.
What concerned me about the Milewski interview was not this exchange, but what came before it. Except for the first question — which was about how Singh would manage without a Commons seat — every single query directly or indirectly invoked race, religion or ethnicity.
There were questions about refugees, religious symbols, Singh’s “acceptability” in Quebec — all coming before the Parmar exchange. Nothing on Singh’s interesting views on addressing precarious work among the young. Nothing on his controversial views on decriminalizing possession of drugs like cocaine and heroin. No “open-ended” questions that would allow Singh to lay out his own agenda.
Earlier that same day, another CBC journalist had posted a tweet that appeared to confuse Singh with another turbaned Sikh — federal economic development minister Navdeep Bains. If I were among the one-in-five people living in Canada who are visible minority, I might be tempted to wonder whether journalists who see a politician of colour see anything but the colour.
When we look south of the border — or across the Atlantic — it’s easy for Canadians to think of racism as a foreign problem. And I agree that we seem (for the moment) unusually blessed.
But take a look at some of the just-released data from Canadian Press’s important “Populism Project” – a survey from EKOS research. According to EKOS’ massive survey, 37 per cent of Canadians think too many immigrants are visible minority. Among respondents who are themselves visible minority, 43 per cent said they had “personally seen or experienced a clear incident of racism” over the past month. Remarkably, 26 per cent of other Canadians said the same.
While a plurality of Canadians don’t think there been much change in the level of racism in Canada, 33 per cent think racism is becoming more common, compared with 20 per cent who think it is becoming less common.
I am not suggesting for a moment that Sikh politicians should only be interviewed by Sikh journalists, or that Indigenous politicians (like the Manitoba NDP’s new leader Wab Kinew) should only be interviewed by Indigenous journalists. It’s a fundamental tenet of journalism that good reporters strive to understand the world around them, and strive particularly hard to understand those most different from them.
But a more diverse press corps would have two effects: one for journalists, the other for consumers of journalism.
For journalists, having people of various backgrounds in the newsrooms means being exposed to different sensibilities and story ideas in editorial meetings, over coffee, and in the thousands of chats that occur among colleagues in newsrooms every day as they try to figure out their angles. They also get to know individuals different from themselves in their full complexity — without reducing them to their most visible characteristics.
In the late 1980s, I did a story related to HIV/AIDS for the CBC. I had lived in New York at the height of the crisis a few years earlier and thought I was reasonably well informed. But after my story aired, a young producer — who was gay — came and spoke to me about some of the language I had used. He made me a better journalist by helping me see some things I had overlooked.
We are all limited to some degree by our backgrounds. Journalism is a lifelong process of educating ourselves away from those limitations.
For news consumers, diverse newsrooms are both a substantive and a symbolic indication that the news business is serious about exploring our world, which includes people like ourselves and people who are quite different. It’s not just about comforting visible minorities through representation. It’s also about the rest of us not just seeing them, but trying to understand them.
The views, opinions and positions expressed by all iPolitics columnists and contributors are the author’s alone. This piece was republished under arrangement with iPolitics.
Commentary by: Nick Fillmore in Toronto
News outlets in Canadian communities are falling like bowling pins.
At least 171 media organizations in 138 communities closed between 2008 and this January, according to the Local News Research Project, a project led by Ryerson School of Journalism. By comparison, only 51 new outlets opened.
The loss of media is so severe that a special report submitted to the House of Commons Heritage Committee was entitled: “Local news poverty in Canadian Communities.”
“Local news poverty, we argue,” is greatest in communities where residents have limited or no access to timely, verified news about local politics, education, health, economic and other key topics they need to navigate daily life, ” project co-ordinator April Lindgren writes in Policy Options.
Small communities such as Markdale, Ont. and Canmore, Alta. lost their local papers while cities Guelph, Ont. and Nanaimo, BC were among the largest centres to be hit.
Newspapers have been crucial for the development of Canada for more than three centuries. But ‘free’ news from for-profit papers is coming to an end.
Daily papers are failing because millions of dollars of advertising they used to have has either moved to the internet or has just disappeared. Because an ad that brings in $1,000 in a paper sells for about $100 on the internet, the newspaper corporations are so far unable to make a go of it in a digital world.
Corporate-owned news organizations around the world are trying to find a formula that will allow them to be profitable. However, they have made little progress in the dozen years since internet-based companies started stealing their ads and readers.
Hundreds of Canadian communities are now poorly served when it comes to local news by underfunded and under-staffed internet news sites, give-away newspapers and even bloggers.
Nonprofit media can be the solution
However, Canadian communities still should be able to have reliable newspapers. They need to explore creating community-controlled not-for-profit papers.
Nonprofit newspapers have financial advantages over for-profit papers. A commercial paper is expected to churn out at least 15 per cent profits or investors will take their money elsewhere. Business executives at corporations command salaries into the hundreds of thousands of dollars. The manager of a nonprofit might earn $90,000. Ad sales staff at daily papers earn a large salary; not so at a nonprofit. A for-profit paper pays taxes. A nonprofit pays few taxes and can engage in fundraising activities.
Other factors: The internet is the future for many news organizations, but many people prefer to hold a newspaper in their hands. A printed publication tends to have more authority than an internet site. And, finally, advertisers like to see their ads in print.
There are no nonprofit daily newspapers in Canada, but hundreds of public interest organizations operate on a nonprofit basis.
The U.K. Guardian is the most prominent not-for-profit newspaper in the world. Last year, the award-winning but financially-strapped Philadelphia Inquirer switched to the not-for-profit model. Both organizations have large endowments.
I believe not-for-profit newspapers are highly desirable if a group can develop a break-even budget. I believe this is possible in Canada.
Set up a research group
If folks feel there’s a need for a newspaper in their community the first step would be to bring together 15 or 20 people who represent a cross-section of citizens. The group could conduct a survey to determine whether people in the community support the idea.
An important early task would be to have experts help you develop a project model to see if the concept is financially viable.
Warning: Don’t focus too much on journalistic content in the early stages. Instead, the most important thing to determine is whether the model you develop is financially viable.
Think about how groups and businesses in the community might contribute. Reach out to local journalists and media outlets to see if they would like to become involved in the project.
My recommendation is that groups create a nonprofit corporation. This way any surplus at the end of the year would go back into the project. A lawyer can create a nonprofit organization for about $700.
An important decision: One of the biggest questions concerns is how to distribute the paper. Traditional door-to-door delivery could be costly but, if the project can afford it, this is the best way to go.
However, groups could use a much cheaper distribution system. What I call the "mini-paper" would have small pages – 8 1/2 x 11 1/2 inches - just about the same size as Maclean's magazine – distributed to subscribers by e-mail.
Subscribers would print out the paper in the morning. The group would provide a simple binding system that readers would use to hold the pages. It might be best to limit the size of any one edition to 24 pages or less.
The huge advantage of the mini-paper is that it would not require newsprint and there would be no distribution expenses.
In case subscribers prefer to access the information on-line, all of the articles and other information published in the mini-paper would be posted behind a paywall on a website.
The big question for any group is figuring out where the money is going to come from.
I think it should be possible to run a nonprofit paper with about one-third of the revenue coming from advertising, one-third from subscribers and sustained donors, and one-third from fundraising.
Many sources of funding
Note: I have considerable experience as a fundraiser and I would be pleased to provide fundraising advice to any group free of charge. Here’s a summary of funding possibilities:
My strong advice to a group is to not launch a new paper until you have lined up funding for at least your first full year.
I know a number of Canadian nonprofit experts and journalists who would be pleased to help develop a project. Several knowledgeable U.S. organizations, such as Institute for Nonprofit News and the Poynter institute would provide advice.
The creation of even one sustainable, independent newspaper project anywhere in Canada would be a huge, unprecedented accomplishment. It could be the forerunner of other papers that would once again provide our communities with a reliable source of news and information.
Nick Fillmore was a CBC journalist and producer for more than 25 years, and is a founder of the Canadian Association of Journalists. He currently works as a Toronto freelance journalist who specializes in writing about media issues.This piece was republished under arrangement with J-Source.
Commentary by George Abraham in Ottawa
IN the summer of 2015, a roomful of Ottawa folks got together at the National Arts Centre, eager to gain insights into the question, “What Stories Swing Votes?” The next federal election – the one that eventually ended Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s decade in power – were just around the corner, and up on the stage at this Canadian Journalism Foundation event were some of Canada’s best political pundits – Susan Delacourt, Frank Graves, Adam Radwanski, David Herle and Tom Clark.
I don’t recall much of what was said, except one particular expression Radwanski used. It has stayed with me ever since. He spoke of a “subterranean campaign” that would be waged in immigrant communities across Canada – presumably in foreign languages and in a vernacular that would be very different from appeals to the rest of Canada. He was predicting a different playbook in select ridings – a playbook that Radwanski assumed would be beyond his understanding.
Looking back, I suspect he was right: there indeed was a playbook that enabled the Liberals to win immigrant-rich ridings. It is widely believed that part of the Liberals’ victory in October 2015 came from immigrant communities switching their votes away from the Conservatives. The Liberals won the so-called “ethnic vote.”
However, Radwanski’s choice of expression has intrigued me ever since. The respected columnist writes for the Globe and Mail – a paper that I have consistently read ever since I set foot in Canada in 2002.
I know the paper to be resourceful, financially well-endowed and world class. As a reader, I see that it invests in its journalists, giving them generous travel budgets to report at great length from hotspots on every continent, but also giving its columnists lots of latitude. It is a great Canadian institution.
And so I was fascinated by the concept that a campaign could be “subterranean” when it dealt with massive, well-established communities, served by hundreds of ethnic media publications. Why did the Globe not already have a cadre of journalistic talent that would have helped it cover these “subterranean” communities just as it did all the other ridings in Canada? Why not use translators, when necessary, to make inroads into these sorts of communities?
Radwanski’s telling observation begged a larger question: Why is our journalism not as multicultural as the rest of society?
In the period since the October 2015 election, I have reframed my question to ask, Why are our journalists not as representative as our federal cabinet?
I would love to have been a fly on the wall as Prime Minister-Elect Justin Trudeau shared with the head of his transition team, Peter Harder, his thoughts on how he wanted to go about selecting cabinet ministers. Together they produced a masterpiece of Canadian diversity. How did they get it so right, without really inviting a backlash from those who have got so used to a monochromatic hegemony in all the levers of power?
More than one year on, I still have trouble reconciling to the fact that a turbaned Sikh immigrant is Canada’s Defence Minister.
I am not the first journalist in Canada to shine a light on the lack of diversity in Canadian journalism. A few years after I set up New Canadian Media, I had the honour of meeting John Miller, a former chair of Ryerson’s journalism school, somebody who made it his life’s mission to make newsrooms more representative, more reflective of their readership and viewership. Miller has researched the issue and written extensively on the topic, to little avail.
There are still spaces in Canada that media don’t understand and have made barely an effort to try to understand. The less charitable side of me thinks they’d simply label these spaces as “ghettos” and be done with them. I suspect there are newsroom managers who argue that these newcomer enclaves don’t see themselves as Canadian.
It is incumbent on our media to do better: our journalism must enable all Canadians to feel equally included.
Given that one in five Canadians born in another country and an equal number are the children of first-generation Canadians, the “immigrant” ethos is writ large. We’ve been adding 1 million new Canadians every four years. And, generally speaking, their ethnic profile tends to be different from that of earlier settlers – for the last three decades, the majority of our newcomers have come from Asia, nations such as China, India, Pakistan and the Philippines. Canada is changing right before our eyes.
In 2012, I took a tentative step toward blending my experience as a journalist in Asia into the Canadian milieu. By then, I was convinced that most newcomers and their children share a sense of dislocation, having moved to North America from regions that are racially and socio-politically very different from the origins of earlier arrivals. They have different mores, a different worldview and a different “lived experience.” They consume news differently and view the world through a different lens.
Interestingly, Canada has had a robust ethnic media sector for a very long time. Visit any grocery store in the suburbs outside the major cities and you will encounter scores of publications stacked in neat piles. A local radio station will play music from “back home,” and the newspapers will say very little about happenings in Canada.
This anecdote may be apocryphal, but a respected ethnic journalist recently told me about a Vancouver radio station that launches its broadcast with the words, “Good morning, Vancouver! The weather in Chandigarh is …”
Each of these publications covers a particular immigrant community, in a specific geographic region, often in a foreign language. Most ethnic media continue to be narrowly focused on issues concerning their communities.
They are staffed mainly by the hundreds of journalists who arrived in Canada wanting to continue in their profession, but find it hard to gain a foothold. About 200 of them have worked with New Canadian Media or participated in our training sessions. They possess experience and language skills that could perhaps help the mainstream media demystify their communities, but nobody has quite figured out a way to marry their talents with the current needs of newsrooms.
I would be the first to admit that not all journalists are created equal. Having lived in five countries, I know first hand that every nation has its own ways of doing journalism. I also know that ethnic and “mainstream” could not be further apart in their professional standards. It would be the rare ethnic journalist who has had the luxury of paying for a journalism degree in Canada.
Working for multicultural media is very different from working for, say, the Globe. The reporters often double up as advertising salespeople. Ethnic publishers roll from one financial crisis to another; scores of them go under every year, while others sprout in their place. The line between editorial and advertising is blurred.
These publications, though, remain a vibrant part of Canada’s media ecosystem and play a critical role in informing and welcoming new immigrants. They fulfill a vital democratic function – albeit an insufficient one.
We in the media need to do a better job of speaking for Canadians and being a mirror to society. This is a cliché, but readers, viewers and listeners want to see and hear themselves reflected in our newsrooms. They want to hear foreign-sounding accents and even a mangled English or French sentence once in a while.
Journalism is about reflecting the lives and times of all Canadians – in all their diversity, colour and socio-political complexity. Newcomers invariably do not fit into the preconceived notions of today’s mainstream media editors.
That’s why it is very important for newsroom managers to specifically empower journalists in our newsrooms from diverse backgrounds to speak up, not to be cowed by those who perhaps unwittingly crowd out more timid voices and offbeat perspectives. In short, let’s privilege diversity, rather than conformity.
As we imagine a new media landscape for future generations, I suggest a “third way” that enables Canada to become the first nation in the world to marry ethnic and mainstream – a true reflection of our unique demographics. Let’s recognize that our highly corporatized media organizations have lost touch and are excluding large segments of our population by continuing to hire candidates who could not possibly do justice to the worldviews or lived experiences of many communities, including immigrants.
I realize it will take more than a generation to achieve in the media what Trudeau has done with his cabinet. It will take more than resolve and window dressing. In the meanwhile, let’s find ways for the two media silos to work together, discover common ground, and, in the process, improve the coverage of communities that feel left out.
This commentary was first published in Policy Options and part of a special feature The Future of Canadian Journalism.
by Amanda Ghazale Aziz in Toronto
When Carleton University asked reporter Judy Trinh to give a talk on diversity in the journalism industry to students in the journalism and communications program, she said yes.
She suspected why the university had asked her: She works full-time for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC), and she’s not white. Even with some reservations, she took the speaking opportunity with a plan in mind.
Up to this point, high schools had been her regular venues to give lectures about journalism. When these schools had asked her to present on diversity, it was always about women in journalism, not race. Carleton’s request was a first.
Carleton’s invitation was an opportunity for Trinh to encourage racialized students to pursue a career in journalism. She truly believed that diverse representation in newsrooms matters, and the first step would be to start an honest discussion on race and the Canadian newsroom. If these students were going to build a meaningful career in media, then they would have to know the full truth.
In a visual slideshow presentation, Trinh presented a comparison of statistics from a study in the Columbia Journalism Review: 49 per cent of minority journalism graduates find a job in journalism, compared to 66 per cent of white journalism graduates. This is the reality for Black, Indigenous and people of colour (lumped into one vague group as “minorities”) who want to break in this industry in the U.S.
A now infamous Laval University study in 2000 had found that 97 per cent of journalists at that time were white. For Trinh, the lack of in-depth reporting on non-white cultures was the sad consequence of the statistic.
“In terms of access, in terms of building trust,” said Trinh. “If you have visible minorities in your newsroom, those ties are stronger.
“When you don’t have those ties, it’s much more difficult to get into those communities and cover them, because there is always a sense of distrust as an outsider.”
Gaining access to racialized communities and reporting on their cultures in more depth are two of many reasons that Trinh thinks that newsroom should be trying to diversify more. A white journalist could conduct thorough research for a piece on a racialized culture and community but there would still be missed nuances.
Even despite these obvious advantages, the statistics suggest that employers still don’t get it. Recently, the CBC came under fire from CANADALAND for not abiding by the Multiculturalism Act’s guidelines on equal opportunity employment for racialized folks. According to the report, a staggering 90–93 per cent of CBC staff were white whereas according to Statistics Canada only around 75 percent of Canadians are white. What’s unsettling in this report is the possibility that employers aren’t compelled to address their discriminatory hiring practices.
Currently, the Multiculturalism Act, along with the Employment Equity Act, is the driving government legislation when it comes to ensuring diverse representation in the newsroom — and the act only applies to newsrooms that are publicly funded. Even then, the act isn’t so heavily implemented as it should be, nor is it fit to match our racial climate today.
The act was written in an era that believed it had achieved a post-racial society. Pierre Trudeau introduced the idea of a Multiculturalism Act in 1971, and Brian Mulroney ratified it a decade later.
Today, however, one in five Canadians identify as a visible minority and we aren’t embracing multiculturalism as much as we think we are. A recent poll by the CBC and Angus Reid shows that 68 per cent of Canadians believe “minorities should do more to fit in with mainstream American/Canadian society,” indicating access to diverse media representation is lacking.
And the Multiculturalism Act itself hasn’t been as accessible as it should be. The language of the act itself is dependent on a dated sense of what equality is, which gives the idea that the act is one size fits all for everyone:
“3 (1) It is hereby declared to be the policy of the Government of Canada to (e) ensure that all individuals receive equal treatment and equal protection under the law, while respecting and valuing their diversity;”
Yasmin Jiwani, a communications studies professor at Concordia University, has been researching the relationship between policy and media over the last few years. In a project with other researchers, Jiwani carefully looked at how Indigenous youth and Muslim youth were portrayed in a three-year time frame at The Globe and Mail. They saw that stories on these groups typically fit narratives such as either “Youth in Trouble” or “Youth as Trouble”, while non-Indigenous and non-Muslim youth were often portrayed as overachievers and young entrepreneurs.
“What my research has shown,” said Jiwani, “is that when we do see people of colour in the media we only see them as ‘problem people’—people who are criminals, people who are taking advantage of Canadian benevolence, or people who are out in war zones.”
“If you are a policy-maker, who most likely doesn’t always encounter folks who are marginalized, what does the press tell you? It tells you that these are ‘problem people’ and they don’t belong in our nation.”
Canada likes to hail itself as a multicultural mosaic. And with Donald Trump’s win in the U.S. election early this November, many citizens have been taking the opportunity celebrate Canada’s apparent superiority—forgetting that the country is rampant with its own problems.
After Trump’s victory, Kellie Leitch—who is currently running to be the leader of Canada’s Conservative Party—sent out a mass email calling Trump’s victory an “exciting message that needs to be delivered in Canada as well.”
Before the 2016 U.S. election, she’d already announced plans for tougher screening processes for immigrants and refugees and was promoting the Conservative Party’s idea of creating a “barbaric cultural practices” tipline for the RCMP, which she later said she regretted.
You don’t have to look far online or in print to notice that we’ve fallen short of our nation’s ideal of equality and multiculturalism. Is Canadian journalism today operating under an act that depicts not only an aged view, but one that is unrealistic in its depiction of what multiculturalism is? It’s unclear how employers are required to fulfill their obligations under the Multiculturalism Act and the Employment Equity Act in their workplaces.
Shree Paradkar said it best in her Toronto Star column: “Non-representation in journalism is a form of oppression. It happens when we—Canadians—invite or accept newcomers to our mutual benefit, but then allow only one dominant group—whites—to play gatekeeper to all the stories, generation after generation. Indigenous people, too, are not exempt from exclusion.”
Equally, there is anxiety about newsrooms using racialized writers as tokens instead of addressing changing their overall hiring practices. Jiwani said she is concerned about the trend of news organizations hiring racialized writers to report exclusively on diversity. She calls these token writers “race ambassadors.”
Denise Balkissoon, currently the editor of the life section at The Globe and Mail, recalls that early in her career pitches concerning race and diversity were often shut down. Now she sees the opposite happening. Emerging journalists are being offered the chance to write on these topics. The dilemma, though, is that the opportunity doesn’t extend beyond that assignment.
“Usually a young journalist of colour will get tapped to write a sensationalist story and that story will turn out great,” Balkissoon said. “But then that journalist doesn’t get hired as a staff writer or nurtured to be a well-rounded writer.”
“People have figured out,” added Balkissoon, “that diversity is relevant at a time when there’s no money dedicated to hiring anyone.”
Along with being an editor, and writing a column, Balkissoon is the co-host (with Hannah Sung) of the Colour Code podcast. Colour Code was first conceived after The Globe and Mailgave workers the opportunity to apply for a special projects fund.
The idea for the podcast was originally about Canadian identity but shifted to focusing on race and Canada. “Our goal was not to prove that racism exists,” said Balkissoon, “but that it was already assumed.”
There were already plenty of American podcasts out there on race, and Balkissoon and Sung wanted to do something just as “meaningful and hard-hitting.”
While some white listeners reached out to Balkissoon and Sung to thank them for helping them learn and to re-examine their privilege, others sent hate mail—especially when the show tackled difficult topics. A particularly large amount of hate mail followed the episode “Eggshells,” in which Balkissoon revisits a heated discussion she had on assimilation at CKNW, a radio show in Vancouver. That backlash inspired her column piece, “We all profit from soldiers on the front lines of hate.”
Readers also have responsibility over what they want to get out of a newspaper since they choose what content and publications they read. Balkissoon insists that people who are interested in good journalism should also not hesitate to “tell the people who run it that diversity is important to them.”
She also sees that importance being reflected on their financial contribution, and how it’s contingent on progressing journalism. After starting the crowdfunded digital magazine The Ethnic Aisle with a group of friends, she was surprised over how many people responded with interest to an online publication solely focused on race and ethnicity.
“[The Ethnic Aisle] was envisioned as a side-conversation,” said Balkissoon, “because when I had first joined Twitter I found myself getting into conversations about race in a way I had never before. And then it also became a way for younger journalists to get practice in pitching and to get practice in editing.”
Beyond small publications, spaces for young and racialized journalists to flourish can be hard to find.
Second-year journalism student Andrew (whose name has been changed to protect his identity) finds himself completely alone in the concentration of his program as the only person who identifies as Black.
When he considered going into radio, he was cautioned by the program staff about how the medium was “unbearably white.” His instructors had another recommendation. “They asked me, why would you want to stay here? Toronto has a bigger market—which I kind of get,” he said.
“But it was as if they had wanted me to be the lone Black reporter for a while and then leave for a larger city. The question is, are they really making an effort to attract people to the East coast to work here? Or are they looking for what’s good ‘locally?’ As in hiring what locals want, as they aren’t interested in seeing people of colour in the media.”
As he carries on with his studies, Andrew still plans to continue airing out concerns to his school’s faculty. These are discussions that are frank, he adds, but necessary.
It’s becoming more and more obvious to the public that, in attempts to address this issue, racialized folks are finding a way to speak out. For the last issue of The Ryerson Review of Journalism, the masthead chose diversity as its main focus. Every single article inside the print issue was dedicated to that theme. “Because it’s 2016” was plastered in bold text on the front cover.
And while the year is nearing its end, the discussion is far from over.
Amanda Ghazale Aziz is a student at the University ofToronto, and is a senior editor at the Intersections: The Clapback Journal and associate editor at Acta Victoriana. In 2014-2015, she was one of the Editors-in-Chiefs atThe Strand, and has also contributed to The Varsity, CWA’s Media Works Guide as well as with other publications. Sometimes, she writes on napkins before using them. You can find her as a part of Badass Muslimah's upcoming podcast and as a member of Femifesto.ca.
Commentary by George Abraham in Surrey
Canadians from the Atlantic to the Pacific are suddenly aware that their world-famous model of multiculturalism is not working as well as it should.
People in the so-called “mainstream” want immigrants to do more to fit in – perhaps by abandoning customs and “back home” traditional mores that don’t jive with the rest of Canada.
While it is hard to pin down what exactly folks who belong to the “mainstream” would want us to do, this disconnect is evident in other ways. Take Canada’s media scene, for instance.
Mainstream media are losing ground, while ethnic media continue to thrive – with new outlets opening in new markets, adding new foreign languages to an already-saturated landscape.
Redefined by immigration
This disconnect was at the heart of a presentation I made in Surrey last week, organized as part of the Walrus Talks series, and titled “Cities of Migration”. Surrey was surely a great location to hold this event; a laboratory of sorts.
Like a handful of cities across Canada, Surrey is being redefined by immigration. Its demographics are startling: the latest census data shows that 41 per cent are immigrants, 14 per cent have arrived since 2001. There has been strong growth in recent years from India and the Philippines.
Markham, Richmond, Brampton and York are in the same league. This is where the Canada of tomorrow is being born.
While in Surrey, I ran into three folks who seem to understand that they are participants in a social experiment that may well determine if Canada will survive as a cohesive society. It is in places like this that we will know if multiculturalism is actually working in practice.
The first was a well-spoken cab driver, Amarinder Singh Dhillon, who's been at the wheel over three decades. But, his source of pride is being “the only Rotarian to drive a taxi”. “Only in Canada,” he exclaims. I agreed.
Stephen Dooley, executive director of Simon Fraser University’s Surrey campus, also gets it. He saw that this city was going to be a haven for refugees from Syria – home to half of all B.C. arrivals from that war-torn Middle East nation – and hence led a study that will inform settlement strategies. However, what struck me was not the study itself, but the fact that Prof. Dooley hired seven recent refugees from Myanmar, Somalia, Iraq and El Salvador as research assistants.
That to me suggests empathy.
The last true believer I ran into was Michael Heeney, principal at Bing Thom Architects, who spoke of creating a “third space” while conceiving the edifice that houses SFU’s Surrey campus. The architects ended up redeveloping a declining shopping centre, opening up the roof to overlay the university and integrating an office tower on it.
The local Wal-Mart and university have a shared roof.
Dhillon, Dooley and Heeney are doing what Surrey needs to succeed: creating shared spaces, fostering conversations and melding the old with the new. I suspect they are not fans of “asymmetric” integration which holds that the onus is on immigrants to fit in.
My good friend and an authority on multiculturalism Andrew Griffith wrote this in Policy Options last month: "The integration process is asymmetric: it is more important for immigrants and new Canadians to adapt to Canadian laws, norms and values than it is for the host society to adjust to them. The meeting point is not ‘somewhere in the middle’ between the host society and the newcomers, but much closer to the host society (80/20 percent, in my view).”
My time in Canada (14 years) tells me that the meeting point is indeed in the middle. The host society must do all it can to make newcomers feel at home, while immigrants must make an equal effort to reach out.
The mainstream cannot adopt the sort of “benign neglect” that no less a Canadian than a former Governor General Adrienne Clarkson referred to in her book, Room for All of Us. [Video courtesy: Stephen Hui/Georgia Straight]
A New Conversation
My talk in Surrey dealt with creating a new Canadian conversation, beginning in the media. The two solitudes of “ethnic” and “mainstream” are as far apart as Gander and Coal Harbour.
We need to find common ground and ways to work together.
Paul Dhillon and Krystele Chavez are perhaps representative of a new breed of immigrant journalists who feel vested in Surrey’s future.
“Bringing innovative ideas and entrepreneurial spirit to the economy, it is because of immigrants that we have kept our city demographically young and culturally enriched, therefore enhancing our influence in the nation,” says Chavez, who comes from Saipan in the Northern Mariana Islands, and writes for Surrey604.
Dhillon has a longer horizon. “Surrey was largely an agricultural backwater until the Indo-Canadian builders and developers built it into subdivisions and strip malls. The impact of immigrants has been immense on the city's development and its current diversity is proof that its future will also be drastically shaped by a truly multicultural and metropolitan population,” says the editor-in-chief of the South Asian Link newspaper.
Theirs are new voices that need to be heard.
George Abraham is founder and publishing director of New Canadian Media
Centre for Science and Environment, New Delhi, India CSE Global Media Fellowship Programme for journalists working in Africa
on REDD+ in Africa An examination and analysis REDD+ stands for Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation in developing countries. Deforestation and forest degradation are the second leading cause of global warming, accounting for 17.4 per cent of global greenhouse gas (...)
The Patriotic Vangaurd
by Our National Correspondent
July 30 marked the 11th anniversary of the Patriotic Vanguard newspaper published from Vancouver. In our continuing effort to profile and work with ethnic media across Canada, New Canadian Media conducted an interview by e-mail with the paper's founder and chief executive officer, Gibril Gbanabome Koroma, a Sierra Leonean journalist in exile. Koroma is pictured at right, in front of the Vancouver Public Library.
This content was developed exclusively for New Canadian Media and can be re-published with appropriate attribution. For syndication rights, please write to firstname.lastname@example.org
A UK-based Sikh organization is coming to Canada to hold a free media workshop in Mississauga on August 17 at Dixie Gurdwara.
The Sikh Press Association – a facilitator between the Sikh community and international media – will be holding the interactive workshop from 6 to 8 p.m. in an attempt to help locals learn media skills directly from professionals.
-- Canada's economic development minister Navdeep Bains at a Public Policy Forum economic summit