Feeling uncomfortable while reporting on some communities and situations is part of being a good journalist.
By Madeleine Binning for the Ryerson Journalism Research Centre
Young journalists – and even industry veterans – can feel uncomfortable reporting controversial stories on topics like race, gender and LGBT issues. Some may even shy away from reporting on these topics to avoid the social media blowback that could follow.
But feeling uncomfortable while reporting on some communities and situations is part of being a good journalist, said Toronto Star investigative reporter Jim Rankin at the Ryerson Research Centre’s (RJRC) recent panel, “Getting Comfortable with Being Uncomfortable.”
“If as a journalist you’re feeling comfortable all the time, you’re not doing good journalism,” said Rankin. “You should be able to step outside of your comfort zone.”
The first RJRC event this fall, the panel attracted about 100 journalism students, faculty members and members of the public to the Rogers Communication Centre at Ryerson University. The discussion, featuring Rankin, award-winning author Kamal Al-Solaylee and Huffington Post associate editor and freelance journalist Angelyn Francis, focused on how journalists can deal with discomfort while reporting on controversial issues and the importance of covering difficult topics.
The key to covering such stories is taking the time to get to know sources and neighbourhoods, Rankin said.
“People generally are generous and they want to share their stories,” he said. “And there’s nothing that beats getting out into the communities that you are writing about.”
Beginning in 2002, Rankin led a team of Toronto Star reporters in investigating police carding in Toronto. His award-winning coverage showed that random street checks targeted a disproportionate number of black and brown men in the city. Subsequent reporting on the issue led him to the Weston-Mount Dennis neighbourhood in 2012, an area with a significant black population and a heavy police presence. During the panel, Rankin explained that reporting on the carding story from that area of Toronto involved visiting community hubs and acting as a “fly on the wall.”