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On newsroom sexism and the Canadaland report

If advocating for women’s equality in newsrooms is the goal, Brown’s reporting falls short of it. By Vidya Kauri I was a tiny bit pleased to see a tweet yesterday from NOW Magazine columnist Jonathan Goldsbie, saying that the Globe and Mail sounds like a terrible place to work, especially for women, with a link…

If advocating for women’s equality in newsrooms is the goal, Brown’s reporting falls short of it.

By Vidya Kauri

I was a tiny bit pleased to see a tweet yesterday from NOW Magazine columnist Jonathan Goldsbie, saying that the Globe and Mail sounds like a terrible place to work, especially for women, with a link to Canadaland. 

It’s no secret. Systemic sexism is alive and well in Canada’s media industry, as it is in many  other workplaces in Canada and around the world. It was only a matter of time before a well-known media critic such as Jesse Brown reported it on Canadaland.

Brown’s journalism uncovers some big and important issues, such as the Jian Ghomeshi scandal. And sometimes, he is too quick to publish things that could arguably have been based on rumours or bitter feelings from (ex-)employees with an agenda (this, for example). 

In his latest story, Women editors are fleeing the Globe and Mail, Brown alleges that management at the Globe have a problem with women, but doesn’t offer a shred of evidence as to why or how. In publishing this piece, Brown does a disservice to both journalism and women who legitimately have to push back against the glass ceiling.

In the original report, Brown lists 17 women who have left the Globe in the last three years. Considering that the Globe has offered buyouts, laid people off and gone through several staffing changes in the last three years, the number alone doesn’t indicate that the paper has a problem with women. 

Brown doesn’t appear to have done any research to determine why these women are no longer at the Globe. There is no indication that he tried to contact them to find out if their reasons for leaving had anything to do with sexism. There is no comparison to the number of men who have left the Globe in the last three years—and off the top off my head, I can think of about eight to 10 male staffers who also left in this time period.

A couple of years ago, I did a reporting internship at the Globe, followed by a four-month summer contract. It was a shrinking newsroom by the time I left in September 2013, and a couple of editors told me that it was the second year in a row the Globe had a hiring freeze. It was a fantastic newsroom for me to work in, but I can think of all kinds of reasons why someone would want to leave at the time: attractive buyouts, a lack of opportunities for growth, a desire to explore different and emerging brands of journalism elsewhere and personal or family reasons.

These are all reasons Brown appears to not have thought of. By listing these women in an article about a patriarchal workplace at the Globe, he implies that these women left specifically because they were mistreated for being women. There is no relevance and there is no context.

Brown also names four female editors who have left in the last couple of weeks, and says that none of them “would speak to CANADLAND about their departures.” At least two of them have since mentioned on Twitter that they hadn’t been contacted for comment. Brown tweeted back to one of them to say he may have had the wrong email address.

An ethical reporter should go beyond one email to try to contact a source, especially for a story without an urgent timeline, and the reporter’s efforts to contact the source should be mentioned in the story.

What also should be mentioned: Brown’s use of anonymous sources. Readers aren’t told how many people Brown spoke with—he just says “many”—and aren’t told why these sources are qualified to speak on behalf of all the women who have left. 

It’s not clear if arguments made by each anonymous source are backed up by what other sources had to say, as is the generally accepted standard for anonymous sourcing. This is the standard that gives readers a reason to trust what anonymous sources have to say.

This isn’t is to say Brown’s entire post is inaccurate. There are many nuggets of truth in it. Yes, top management is dominated by men, so it is unsurprising that a woman’s experience at the Globe might be quite different from a man’s. And this is what irks me enough about Brown’s report to write about it: there is a real sexism problem within Canadian media.

Once, I was asked to start a parenting blog as soon as an editor found out that I am a parent (not during my time at the Globe). There is nothing quite like motherhood to convince society that a woman must not be interested in anything but the welfare of her children the second she conceives. 

I have spoken with other female journalists who say they have had to fight tooth-and-nail to be foreign correspondents when editors decided they should stay on Canadian soil for the sake of their children. 

I have heard stories from female reporters who have felt their male counterparts were always treated preferentially, for no apparent reason, by specific editors. I may or may not have experienced this myself. Systemic sexism can be powerful, but subtle, and hard to pinpoint. 

And there’s racism, too. There was the time (again, not at the Globe) I was asked to focus on a beat such as the “brown community.” There have been other occasions when a white male with far less experience than me landed a job or assignment that I felt I was very well suited for. Unintentional racism, sexism, nepotism, or none of the above? I can’t say for sure. But all those things exist in this industry. For real. And I know I am not the only one to have experienced it.

Women, especially those starting out in this partially crumbling industry, are hesitant to talk about these experiences. But they do need to be addressed at some point for real change to take place. It affects employee morale and welfare, and it has an impact on the the issues that receive coverage, how topics are covered and the way news is presented.

If advocating for women’s equality in newsrooms is the goal, Brown’s is not the kind of treatment an issue of this gravitas should have. I would love to see Brown tackle this issue more seriously, because I doubt anyone else is going to put their careers at stake to do so anytime soon.

There was never a doubt that journalism is dictated by a masculine culture. Our media landscape is dominated by white men. But the women I know are actively fighting sexism to have the meaningful careers they want, not quitting.

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Vidya Kauri reports on federal law for Law360 in New York. She has previously written for the Globe and Mail, the National Post, the Toronto Star, Maclean’s magazine and Al Jazeera English.

This column originally appeared on Kauri’s website. A condensed version is published here with permission.

Illustration photo by Aeman Ansari.