I sit there for what must be hours, mulling over the simple phrase.

“I love writing about social issues, primarily those concerning racial groups.”

I’m working on an application for an internship with a major Canadian news outlet and I’m nervous. No, not nervous because it’s one of the largest publications in the country, but nervous because I know I’m walking a fine line. That one phrase in all its simplicity has the power to make or break my application.

I’ve read this paper just about everyday since my first year of journalism undergrad and I’m familiar with their content and tone. Even though I know there’s no room for conversations of race at this publication, I want the job. I continue to stare at that phrase, convincing myself that if by some fluke I get the position, I won’t sell out. I’ll remain true to myself and continue to write about “social issues, primarily those concerning racial groups.”

I submit my application.

Unsurprisingly, I don’t get the job (as a matter of fact, I don’t even get an interview). And while I don’t place total blame on that publication- there was likely someone more qualified- I have this nagging feeling that one phrase had something to do with my application being thrown in the trash.

I wouldn’t have been the right fit, and while normally I’d be fine with that, this time it bothers me. Because I know that as a writer who loves “writing about social issues, primarily those concerning racial groups,” there are very few newsrooms in which I will fit.

I’ve heard very few journalists (read white journalists) ever talk about the lack of diversity within newsrooms and media. But taking to social media yesterday to share his frustrations, Filipino-American journalist Jose Antonio Vargas criticized the industry for its lack of inclusion.

“Since we are discussing #OscarsSoWhite, can we examine why #JournalismSoWhite?” he posted on Facebook. “American newsrooms are less diverse now than when I started in journalism in 1999. It’s a disgrace. And irresponsible.”

His post drew online reaction from many journalists who echoed his thoughts. Among them was ProPublica reporter Lois Beckett and Huffington Post political reporter Julia Craven.

©Poynter
A 2015 Poynter infographic illustrates the lack of diversity in American newsrooms.

Ironically, although discussions of race and inclusion are at the forefront of many current stories, it’s rarely a journalist of colour sharing such news. According to the American Society of News Editors (ASNE), in 2015 less than 13 per cent of journalists in the field were members of a visible minority, up roughly nine per cent from 1978. Though there is a lack of data on diversity within Canadian newsrooms, a Laval University study conducted in 2000 found 97 per cent of journalists across all media were white.

There are various explanations for this lack of diversity. Firstly, there are economic barriers. In such an unpredictable industry, there are few opportunities for emerging journalists. Those that do exist are often unpaid and for many graduates of colour, the opportunity to write for free is a luxury that can’t be afforded. Without the chance to be published and develop a portfolio, a career in journalism is highly unlikely.

In Canada, the narrative often told through media is a colonial one. Speaking at a live J-Source panel earlier this month, Toronto Star columnist Desmond Cole spoke about the colonialist story “that doesn’t centre around us.”

“Racism is a huge thing and I think the colonial project in Canada doesn’t want to talk about racism,” he explained. “It means that racism is this really big force, and people doing journalism in Canada don’t want to talk about it, so how can it change?”

But diversity in media is essential to good journalism. It leads to renewed perspectives and stories. What’s more, it also creates new opportunities for writers of colour.

#JournalismSoWhite is more than a hashtag- it’s the comprised experiences of both experienced and emerging journalists. And more importantly, it’s the public recognition of a serious issue within today’s journalism industry.

“I love writing about social issues, primarily those concerning racial groups.”

Maybe I won’t have to sell out after all.

But that’s just According to Adrienne.

6 Comments

  1. If there’s one industry that absolutely needs diversity, it’s journalism. How can media fairly depict the lives of Canadians if those who create content aren’t a proper representation of Canadians?

  2. Thanks for being so open about not only how this issue affects society, but you personally. It’s easy to forget that when “writing about social issues, primarily those concerning racial groups” people of color’s lives are tied to the outcomes. I’m sending you strength on this journey.

    xo

    #BLMGirl
    politicsandfashionblog.com

  3. I’ve felt similar apprehension when applying to jobs in the past although I don’t work in the field of journalism. We should be able to throw our hats in the ring for employment and expect our applications and resumes to be met with excitement at the potential of bringing qualified, diverse talent onboard rather than ignored. As usual, all we can do is hope for change but when is that change going to come exactly? Thank you for shedding some light on such a relevant topic, and I wish you look in landing a job that will appreciate your writing about social issues!

    • That’s a very good question- when IS change going to come? In 2016, writers shouldn’t have to worry about how their views on social issues will affect their application. It’s a relief to know I’m not the only one bothered by this. Thank you for reading!

  4. Most industries worldwide lack diversity. Many don’t see the black experience as important or valuable yet it’s appropriated worldwide. Ironic right.

    However, social media and self-publishing created avenues for growth in “new journalism”. We definitely have to create opportunities when their aren’t any.

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