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Addressing diversity in Canadian journalism is complicated—at least in part because statistics and the policies informed by them are often the exception and not the rule.

[[{“fid”:”3508″,”view_mode”:”default”,”fields”:{“format”:”default”,”field_file_image_alt_text[und][0][value]”:””,”field_file_image_title_text[und][0][value]”:””},”type”:”media”,”attributes”:{“style”:”width: 400px; height: 264px; margin-left: 10px; margin-right: 10px; float: right;”,”class”:”media-element file-default”},”link_text”:null}]]By Chantal Braganza, Associate Editor

In the early ’90s, Ryerson University professor emeritus John Miller conducted a study on the visual representation of minority groups in Canadian newspapers. He looked at which section photos appeared in, how many featured people of colour and compared the ratios with those of actual demographic groups living in the paper’s local population. “Of all the newspapers we looked at, only one newspaper was close to even,” he said. “That was the Montreal Gazette.” 

When he called up the Gazette’s then-editor, Joan Fraser, to tell her about it, “she laughed and said, ‘Wow, you can measure that? We’ve been trying to do this for years.’”

“They had an editor in charge of having reporters assigned to keep an eye on certain communities,” said Miller, “and they were really happy with the results and getting interesting stories.”

Addressing diversity in Canadian journalism, both in coverage and in the newsrooms that produce it, is a complicated proposition—at least in part because statistics on the issue and the policies informed by them are often the exception and not the rule. 

After that visual representation study, Miller conducted a demographic review of Canadian newspaper mastheads with the Canadian Daily Newspaper Association in 1994 and again in 2004 at Ryerson University. At the time, what the studies categorized as visible minorities accounted for 2.6 per cent of staff at newspapers in 1994 and 3.4 per cent 10 years later. In between, studies at Laval University in 2000 and a 2004 Canadian Task Force for Cultural Diversity on Television found that 97 per cent of Canadian journalists working in various media, and 87.7 per cent of news anchors were white, respectively. 

But to date, a consistent survey similar to the scope of the American Society of News Editors’ annual newsroom census, running since 1978, does not exist in Canada. Or, in Miller’s words: “Nobody’s keeping count now.”

Sheila Giffen is executive director of Canadian Women in the Literary Arts, an organization that has been counting gender representation in literary arts journalism since 2013. CWILA’s annual count, which includes the gender of both reviewers and authors, not only highlights where representation gaps exist industry-wide but which newspapers and magazines are doing particularly well.

“Our job is to look at the gaps and start a conversation that organizations and publications can and should continue,” said Giffen. “You should also be looking at what other factors are going into the lack of diversity”

“The numbers that speak to the diversity in an organization are important, but what’s happening below the surface is more important,” she added. 

In the absence of numbers, senior managing director of CBC Toronto Susan Marjetti has built a newsroom diversity policy that’s often cited internationally as a successful example of how such a policy can work—and as a business case for having one in the first place.

After seeing a lack of coverage of urban Aboriginal communities in Winnipeg and Black Nova Scotians in Halifax, both places she’d worked at for the CBC, she noticed a similar pattern in Toronto after moving there in 2001 to work as a program manager for radio. “One of the first things I started talking about when I was shaking people’s hands was that we’re going to begin to better reflect this city and all its diversity. Our mission is to look and sound like this city in all its diversity,” Marjetti said.

“That became our vision,” she said. “Simple, memorable, easy for everyone to remember—as opposed to a 14-page strategy document.”

The implementation of that single sentence, however, took much longer. The first step for CBC Toronto’s Metro Morning, for example, was to set up a team that spent six months looking at every aspect of the show, from its hiring practices, to editorial choices, to how the show’s staff conducted strategic outreach through actions such as advertising and partnerships. 

“At the time, we had the opportunity to hire two associate producers and two reporters,” Marjetti said. “I actively set out to recruit from diverse communities.”

Working with human resources to build a staff reflective of the audiences an outlet wants to reach, according to Marjetti, is critical to this approach. “It’s that team that would deliver on our mission and strategy,” she said. “Historically, people hire and surround themselves with people who think, and in some cases look, like themselves. We set out to hire people who think differently. And who may look differently. And who bring that richness and range in ideas.”

Two things resulted from these conscious hiring and coverage choices. First was an answer to the answer to a problem that Marjetti has repeatedly heard elsewhere is a barrier to building diverse teams: that qualified people of visible minorities simply don’t apply.

“What are you doing to find them? If you don’t bring people to the table, you’re going to get to that conclusion,” she said. “We worked so hard to put together an excellent and representative example for our hiring board. After that, people were coming to us.

The second was more noticeable to listeners. In a two-year span, Metro Morning went from the city’s sixth-rated show in the Toronto market to the top place—and has stayed in that spot since 2003. The show has also doubled its audience in the 35- to 49-year-old bracket.

“It was, I believe, a direct result of being more inclusive and more comprehensive in the stories, guests, columnists, contributors and even music we aired on the show.”

Last summer, management at the Toronto Star sat down with editorial managers to implement a diversity assessment of its own coverage. While not a formal policy in and of itself, managing editor Jane Davenport told J-Source the analysis was very much informed by what Marjetti had done at CBC Toronto. Public editor Kathy English wrote a column on the process last July. This spring, management, led by English, will review what’s been accomplished in the year since.

“We sat down with each of the managers in the newsroom and talked about the specific challenges in their file and how we could find ways to improve,” Davenport wrote in an email. “The goal was to make sure that everyone on the team felt the same sense of accountability for reflecting our community.” 

“When we sat down and looked at our coverage overall, what truly stood out was the need to be proactive. A lot of news is driven by policy makers and industry leaders who are not as diverse as the people the news affects. And much of news is hard and negative—there is usually a problem,” she wrote. “Looking for diversity in either the solutions to those problems or in the smaller numbers of stories that are simply celebratory or human interest becomes key to not just reflecting back the faces of the community but also the humanity of it.”

With files from Aeman Ansari.