Yesterday morning, Canadaland’s Jesse Brown published a report claiming women were quitting positions from the Globe and Mail due to an institutionally sexist work environment.
By Chantal Braganza, Associate Editor
Yesterday morning, Canadaland’s Jesse Brown published a report claiming that women were quitting positions from the Globe and Mail due to an institutionally sexist work environment. Along with a list of reporters and editors who had since left the paper since 2012, the report includes comment from unnamed former and current staffers about the work culture there.
Online response to the story since yesterday has been swift, ranging from criticisms of not having contacted sources named to the central argument of the story being true of newsrooms generally, but not best discussed as a headline-style news report or list of departures. At least one of those responses we’ve republished on J-Source, here.
We spoke to Brown about the story’s impetus and reporting process.
J-Source: What prompted the story? Was this a tip from someone specifically asking you to look into this?
Brown: Yes—a tip from someone who worked at the Globe.
Was this something you’d heard mentioned about the Globe’s newsroom generally beforehand?
Brown: Yes, I was aware of the Globe’s general reputation in this regard.
I was aware that the place had a reputation for top-down management. I’d heard it talked about as being really old-school—that if you stay there till very, very late, you’re valued. That if you take orders and deliver the editorial product that’s being asked for, you’re valued. And I’d heard women casually talk about that as something that disproportionately affects them.
In being asked to specifically look into this as a systemic issue—what makes this different from what you’ve heard about other large newsrooms?
Brown: If I had to say which newspaper newsroom in Canada about which I hear the most complaints of institutional sexism, the answer to that question would be the Globe and Mail. The fact that there was just a spate of recent departures was a way into talking about something that I think has been looming for a very long time. And I think that people who have direct experience with it wanted me talk about.
One large component of the feedback to the story right now is why now? Or: why not wait for a named source? What went into the decision of how this piece was timed?
Brown: Part of the reason why I made mistakes with the story is that I was told by a number of people, “They’re not going to talk to you, but you should look at a number of these recent departures.”
And certainly, I can’t really think of why they would talk to me: there’s a lot to lose by them talking to me. But it was brought to my attention that these people had left, and that generally this was acrimonious, that they were getting out. The way it was described to me by multiple sources that this was people who were running from and not to.
So, why not wait for a named source: Under what circumstances would you get a named source on a story like this? It’s hard to imagine. I might be waiting a long time. I mean, it’s possible. I spoke to six different people with first-hand experience at the Globe in researching this story. And their accounts were consistent.
A couple of people mentioned in the story indicated on Twitter that they weren’t contacted—was that the case, or happened there?
Brown: I fucked that up. Being told that sources aren’t not going to talk to you is not reason to not solicit comment from them, and my intention was to solicit comment from them.
And when it came time to write this story…it’s a blind spot, when it’s a formality. When you know someone is not going to talk to you, and you have to tick off that box of having asked them. So in one case I sent out an email to faulty address, and in another I just dropped the ball. I had it in my head that I sent an email that I’d never sent.
I do take full responsibility there, and certainly the people that I’m writing about should have a chance to talk about this. I did everything that I could to correct and own up to it once the story came out. [Ed. note: the story has since been updated to reflect this.] All of those people I believe, are now aware that I remain interested.
What’s wonderful about the web as opposed to print journalism is that there isn’t some definitive print copy out there that I can never correct. That’s not to give myself an excuse; I presented an opportunity for people who were going to tear down the story no matter what to seize on that as the issue, as opposed to what I’m saying.
You’ve added plenty more names on that list as of this morning. In terms of a standard to proof, where do you think you’d have to get to have more readers convinced that this actually is the case as the Globe?
Brown: Let’s take that apart a little bit. There was certainly a pile-on of people picking away at the story, and some of them had legitimate concerns, and I did my best to address them.
But let’s not confuse the number of people, most of whom who have some connection with the Globe and Mail, finding fault with in technicalities with the story than the story itself failing to meet some standard to proof.
No one’s actually challenged the veracity of what’s at the heart of the story: that there’s institutional sexism at the Globe and Mail, that women are disproportionately affected by the management structure there, that there’s a paucity of women—or no women—as a masthead editor.
It’s all well and good to say that “this is not a story that meets the standard of this news organization or that news organization,” but I think it needs to be said that this is something everybody knows about in the Canadian media industry, and nobody has published about. With the exception of, I think, Frank, which just listed something about those departures a few days ago.
So if you’re going to talk about something like that, where there is no smoking gun. It’s not a predatory culture, to my knowledge, or where people have been explicitly singled out by horrible sexists—that’s the difference between institutional sexism and something that’s more predatory. How do you talk about something like that? It is about people talking about a culture, people who would never single themselves out. The only way to publish that is to collect stories and anecdotes and impressions. The list, I think, tells you something, and you can make of that what you will. It was presented as a list of people who left the Globe and Mail. Many of whom were leaving not with a great opportunity waiting for them, but not all. But you put it out there and hope to start a conversation.
So the list—will the nature of that change over time? And will there be other elements to add to the context of what’s going on here?
Brown: This is not a scientific process here. Some people said you should have a list of the men as well. OK, why not? That’s fine, too. But more men are employed at the Globe and Mail then women, so there’s going to be more men leaving, as a proportional question.
But then you get situations where people say, “Let’s really look at this list. How many people didn’t have a great job they were going to?” You can look at a number of women who got great promotions and incredible opportunities elsewhere. I happen to know for a fact that some of those women who are doing incredibly well, and took great jobs elsewhere, were fleeing the Globe and Mail and were taking a great job elsewhere.
I think people need to ask themselves that if you would sit down over beers and say, “Well, it really does seem alarming, the number of women who’ve left really good jobs at the Globe and Mail. How many can you think of?” And over drinks a bunch of journalists would have that conversation about the meaning and results of that. I’m happy to do that on Canadaland, and that’s what it is.
This interview has been edited and condensed.