The future of immigrant journalism in Canada
New Canadian Media founder George Abraham reflects on his project’s first four years and what the future holds for immigrant journalism.
By George Abraham
I was never cut out to be a pioneer or an entrepreneur; risk-taking is just not in my DNA. My friends know me as a follower rather than a leader: a conformist.
However, something changed a decade into my Canadian journey. A solo road trip from Boston to Ottawa five years ago set in motion a series of ideas that eventually culminated in launching New Canadian Media (NCM) in 2011. I've written about this trip for Nieman Reports.
The online media venture I created is based on a fairly straightforward idea: immigrants redefine a country and deserve to be a full part of the national conversation. I call this "immigrant journalism," a vein of journalism that privileges the voice of newcomers and always stands up for their point of view.
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My reasoning goes something like this: if there can be a Quebecois point of view, a point of view for English Canada and a Northern perspective, why not one for newcomers, folks who’ve lived for extended periods outside of Canada? I define “immigrants” rather loosely, including not just the one-fifth of Canadians who are foreign-born, but all those who see “immigrant” as part of their own identity.
It's only in hindsight that I see how my simple idea would find wide resonance across the Canadian landscape, from mainstream media organizations such as iPolitics.ca and The Walrus and major journalism schools to NGOs that work with immigrants and think-tanks and Canadians of every shade. All of them enthusiastically support a media organization that reflects a changing Canada as it morphs from a nation of largely European forebears to one that has immigrants from 200 different countries.
I've often been asked why it took somebody like me (really, a nobody with no connections) to come up with this idea. After all, I arrived in Canada in 2002 not knowing a single soul: no friends, no relatives. I don't know the answer to that question, but here's a try: I see myself as a "median Canadian," somewhere in the demographic middle. To wit, I'm brown, "a native English speaker" with an accent, Christian, have lived in four other countries before Canada, learned French here, am well-schooled in the Westminster model of democracy and, lastly, a "joiner" by nature.
Importantly, I think, I’ve never seen myself as an Indo-Canadian. I always tell my children, we are Canadian. Je suis fier d'être Canadien.
The New Canadian Media journey
Four years into our journey, NCM is seen as a poster child for entrepreneurial journalism, a venture that is tapping into new audiences and innovative ways of engaging them. We have a great digital platform, a high-calibre newsroom and consultative editorial board and scores of freelance writers and contributors representing all shades of opinion and ethnicity. We are much further ahead in portraying the pulse of Immigrant Canada than I ever imagined, but we have a long way to go in fulfilling our potential.
I’ll be honest: we are hamstrung by a lack of financial resources to pay for the great content we feature on our site. Hence, NCM has launched a crowdfunding campaign. As I say in this promo video, every dollar raised will go towards our exclusive content: great content that makes a difference.
Our content falls into two broad categories: news and commentary on Canadian current affairs from an immigrant perspective and stories on topics that are of particular relevance to immigrants. Although we privilege the immigrant perspective, our audience includes all Canadians.
While financial pressures keep our endeavour modest, our board of directors has planned a series of projects that will take NCM to the next level and ensure our place in Canada’s rich media landscape. These include needs-based training workshops for newcomer journalists, Canada’s first ethnic media style guide, e-mail newsletters, a news and comment syndication service and a public discourse series that will complement our efforts to broaden the national conversation.
We are acutely aware that Canada is changing rapidly, and we want to be in the forefront of this evolution by empowering the next generation of Canadian journalists to be a bit more aware of Canada’s diversity than the current one. As Jon Marcus wrote in the Spring 2014 issue of Nieman Reports, “More educators think knowledge of other cultures is important as the diversity of their subjects and audiences deepens.”
My career has taught me that more than an art or craft, journalism is a discipline. There are important nuances in the way the discipline is practised in different countries; Canada is no exception. But my story demonstrates that not only can newcomers master these nuances, they can, in fact, thrive and pioneer new forms of journalism.
George Abraham, who began his career at The Times of India in Mumbai, is the founder and publishing director for New Canadian Media.
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