The following memo was sent to staff on Aug. 19, 2020 from Toronto Star editor Irene Gentle.
I’m happy to introduce another newsroom move.
In addition to her important and powerful columnist voice, Shree Paradkar will become our first internal ombud.
While the first and main communication on all professional matters is between staff and their manager, we want to encourage as much conversation and understanding as possible. This role will provide a safe place for BIPOC journalists and all journalists to express editorial-related discrimination and bias concerns if they don’t feel comfortable bringing it to their manager directly.
These could come in the form of concerns over headline worlds or angle, photo choice or placement, social posts, cutline or other display writing, story wording or angle, or sometimes, assignment.
The ombud will take these concerns, which may be anonymized to increase comfort level, to me, Catherine and/or the manager whose file the issue relates to. This allows a streamlined and structured process for concerns, a better sense of recurring or specific issues, and greater discussion which can help us start building pathways toward broader newsroom understanding.
As always, conversations with your manager are encouraged. This new role provides an additional or alternative avenue.
Anything that would normally go to the public editor would continue to do so.
The internal ombud will not deal with any personnel issues. Any concern that would normally rise to the level of HR or union would still do so. If the issue is related to discrimination, Shree could still be a support person in this process.
As mentioned in last week’s update note, this is part of developing structures to ensure Black, Indigenous and journalists of colour have a way to be safely and clearly heard by colleagues, decision makers and leaders. The aim is stronger, more relevant and insightful journalism that makes a difference, as well as making our newsroom a better place to work.
Along with other measures such as the external community advisory panel, the goal is also to build better relations with all communities in Toronto, the GTA and Canada.
For time spent in her ombud capacity, Shree will be working as part of the management team, reporting to me.
Shree, whose race and gender column will continue leading conversations in Canada, has a lot of experience bringing her to this moment.
In India, as Bureau Chief of Bangalore Times she helped the Times of India group develop young urban audiences, leading a staff of eight reporters and photographers while writing a popular weekly column called Teen Scene. She cut her editing teeth at The Straits Times in Singapore.
At the Star, she was Health Editor of the Life Section, founded a magazine named Desi Life, and led the digital BreakingNews team. She was the 2018-2019 recipient of the Atkinson Fellowship in Public Policy, investigating the failures and breakthroughs in our education system. Her findings from this are being incorporated into the education curriculum at York University.
She was recently awarded two Amnesty International awards in Human Rights reporting.
Her experience is also personal. “It was my inevitable racialization that led to a profound consciousness of my identity as a non-white person — and to my Brahmin privilege. This evolving awareness let to my current life-defining role as the Race and Gender Columnist at the Star, the country’s first as an immigrant woman of colour (as far as I know),” she said.
Please join me in congratulating Shree in this important newsroom role.