By Anda Zeng
I slipped the idea in at the bottom of my brainstorm list last summer: “Diversity in the newsroom.” Typed tentatively. Meant for suggestion, then disposal.
Timeliness was its main adversary, in my mind. Racial inequality mattered to me personally, but surely the story had already been told, explored, examined—whichever word journalists use to describe deep dives into important issues.
My instructor, Tim Falconer, actually suggested the idea to me before I could suggest it to him. He spoke about publishing a special report on diversity in this year’s magazine. And so, the story was rescued from brainstorm obscurity with this revelation of timeliness.
Time passed; my interview transcriptions with journalists of colour from various cultures, news organizations and provinces piled up. It became increasingly apparent that this subject was too complex to sit neatly within a 3,000-word narrative.
With lots of editorial guidance, the story moved toward the journalist of colour’s role within Canadian newsrooms (essential) and the how the industry supports it (tenuously). Focusing the story was a necessary compromise. However, I feared it would do journalists of colour a disservice by not mentioning their experiences with hiring or the dilemmas they faced within ignorant newsroom cultures, experiences I felt in the pit of my stomach.
As I worked away at this story, I watched Twitter come alive with continual swells of honest discussion about racism in the industry, our blog editors addressing questionable coverage in blog posts and my classmates releasing an online special that touched on many things I had to set aside in my own.
More than once, I wondered whether all the conversation and fine published work surrounding me would render my story obsolete by its release. Was my story timely, but too long in the making? But as many have pointed out in this past year, diversity isn’t the work of one individual, of one token minority at a news desk. Certainly not the work of just one journalism student. The truth is I felt freed that my story was simply part of a larger movement disrupting the notion that newsroom diversity is so irrelevant that it should be relegated to the bottom spot on anyone’s list.