February focus on Black people misses lack of diversity in newsrooms

2022.02.01

FELESHIA CHANDLER | For CWA Canada

With Black History Month upon us, there’s no doubt that many organizations, schools and even newsrooms across the country will shine light on prominent Black figures, trying their best to make their voices heard. But what about the rest of the year?

Journalists report on bad news, good news and everything in between. Many come from diverse backgrounds, allowing them to bring unique perspectives to the table. But if that’s the case, why are Canadian newsrooms still primarily white?

According to the most recent study done by the Canadian Association of Journalists (CAJ), as of last year, a majority of newsrooms in Canada were primarily occupied by white journalists.

I think as a Black person, especially when you start to pursue your education and then career, you grow accustomed to seeing more white faces than those of colour in any given room you’re in.

At my first reporting job at a newspaper in Halifax, of a half-dozen editorial staff, there were only two people of colour: me and another intern.

Again, something that seemed normal to me.

For my second reporting gig, I was fortunate to land a fellowship (similar to an internship) at Canada’s largest news outlet: the CBC.

When I started at the station in Halifax, many of the 50 newsroom employees were in the midst of transitioning to work from home due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but I was able to meet experienced staff members who work in radio, television and online.

Eventually this fellowship led to me joining the Halifax team as a temporary employee. But that team is primarily white; I am one of only six people of colour in the newsroom — two of them Black.

When I was brought on board, I immediately jumped to the thought: Am I a diversity hire?

I thought hard about that question. It even made me consider turning down the offer to become a casual worker there, but I decided to push forward.

I’ve been at CBC Nova Scotia for a year and not much has changed in terms of Black reporters.

But why? Why don’t I see more bylines by people of colour?

I have a theory. When I was growing up, becoming a writer never seemed like an option for me — maybe because I was never exposed to Black writers and artists.

Sure I knew about rappers and R&B Black pop culture icons, but when it came to prolific writers such as Ann Rice and J.K. Rowling … they were white women and many of their characters were white.

I didn’t see myself reflected in these forms of art. For a long time I thought I had to be famous to be successful, had to have my name up in lights, have a clothing line or be a hairstylist to the stars because those are the kind of Black people I idolized and wanted to be.

I now realize that Black people are not monolithic. We can do more than play basketball and be recognized for musical talent. We can be authors, alumni, professors, teachers and — we are those things.

The world is changing and more and more people of colour are being recognized for their talents. But when it comes to newsrooms, it’s evident from the CAJ study that more change is needed.

I don’t solely blame individual news outlets per se, but rather encourage them to recruit more people of colour, whether that be via job fairs or newsletters. I also especially encourage more collaboration with Black community members and writers all year round, not just during February.

We are here. We’ve been here and we are capable of more than filling a diversity quota.

Just some food for thought to keep in mind this Black History Month.

(Feleshia Chandler is a journalist based in Halifax. She loves helping people tell their stories and has interests in issues surrounding LGBTQ+ people as well as Black, Indigenous and people of colour. She is a member of CWA Canada Local 30213, the Canadian Media Guild.)

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