Dear fellow media executive,
Too many times in my career, I have had to remind myself that the colour of my skin matters.
Too many times, when I would rather focus on where merit has brought me, I have to say it matters that a Chinese-Canadian journalist could be a managing editor of a newsroom that wasn’t printing or broadcasting in Chinese.
It matters because while there are more than enough talented people of colour in this industry – even more so have come on board the last two decades – those of us who are here are frustrated.
We have so far to go. And it’s beyond time to talk about it. It’s time to start doing.
I know, because I am a senior leader in this industry. Before HuffPost, I have served in senior roles at newspapers, once my name inhabited a national sheet’s masthead. I have sat among editors at daily news meetings. I have seen floods of interns stream into our newsrooms with the hope that the tide would turn.
“We have so far to go. And it’s beyond time to talk about it. It’s time to start doing.”
Hope, it appears, doesn’t amount to much.
You can see it in the bylines, in the ranks of columnists who shape the daily opinion, in the senior leadership of just about every Canadian media organization. Forget leadership, just go walk into any newsroom and look around — then go outside and walk the streets of a city like Toronto and you know there is a disconnect.
Canada’s newsrooms are not diverse. And we are all suffering for it.
HuffPost Canada’s newsroom, circa 2016.
We do not collectively reflect what the census (and common sense) will tell you about how Canada no longer resembles what it looked like 150 years ago.
Journalists – no matter the stripe – will tell you they are looking to tell good stories. They want to be fair, accurate and considered. It’s true, but I believe that every person’s experience creates a frame of reference for what matters — what is news, what are stories that should be told. More so, when coverage becomes a “us and them” exercise, you know something is wrong.
Newsrooms are imperfect places shaped by human experiences — stories stem from ‘kitchen table’ conversation to the cultural class those journalists inhabit. Earlier in my career, as a still-green manager, I would watch weekend award-winning features and front-page plans come to life based on “what I heard this weekend”– in most cases the “what I heard” came from a mostly male, mostly white experience.
“I know it’s possible to not only address diversity, but actually do it.”
Here’s the rub. Having now led a newsroom for the past six years, I know it’s possible to not only address diversity, but actually do it.
HuffPost Canada’s senior leadership, including my boss, are all minorities. More than 50 per cent of my newsroom of 35 are visible minorities. When we speak about coverage of the black experience, or the LGBTQ experience or Muslim experience or being a child of the immigrant, our newsroom only needs to look around and realize we at least have a jumpstart to the conversation.
HuffPost Canada’s news team. Photo: Tim Fraser
Why? Because we are talking about ourselves.
You should do it too.
Want to know the secret?
I’ll give it away for free.
No, I don’t mean think about it, or create a program to encourage it.
And do it now. Your next hire — from your next intern to your middle manager. To — gasp — your next editor-in-chief or managing editor or top columnist.
And your next hire and the next one after that.
You’ll be only better for it, and you find a way to be relevant.