“I can’t find the city I know in the newspapers.”
That was the opening line of a column written by Vancouver journalist Christopher Cheung. Published in the Star in June, it examined the lack of diversity in Canadian newsrooms and how that skewed reporting.
“I once thought journalism was a reliable reflection of reality. Nowadays, I can’t help but view reporting as a reflection of whoever happens to be holding the pen, and they aren’t representing or writing about large parts of the community,” Cheung wrote.
I was reminded of that column as I read important research by the Canadian Association of Journalists that underscored how poorly the staff in Canadian newsrooms reflect the communities they report on.
It found that newsroom staff are overwhelmingly white — 74.9 per cent — compared to 18.6 per cent who identify as a visible minority, and 6.4 per cent who identify as Indigenous. More than 80 per cent of supervisors identify as white. Most newsrooms have no Latin, Middle Eastern, Black or Indigenous journalists.
Just over half — 52.7 per cent — identify as women compared to 46.7 per cent who identify as men and 0.7 per cent that identify as non-binary.
The data is based on the submissions of 3,873 journalists from 209 newsrooms. Some 379 newsrooms did not respond. Not all the Star’s demographic details are captured by the CAJ results because of problems translating the data.
In December 2020, Torstar, the Star’s parent company, asked the Canadian Centre for Diversity and Inclusion to do a demographic survey of its workforce. Just half of the Star newsroom took part so it’s an incomplete picture. But the results are still telling.
The newsroom’s staff is 47.6 per cent men and 47.6 per cent women, with 4.8 per cent either non-binary or unknown. Of those who took part, 68.5 per cent of full-time staff are white, 13.3 per cent identified as Asian and 5 per cent as other/multiple. Between one and four reported in each of the groups Black, Latin and Middle Eastern.
No one in the survey identified as an Indigenous person. Nine per cent at the Star self-identified as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer or questioning, and two-spirit. Eighteen per cent identified as a person with a disability.
Star editor Anne Marie Owens called the numbers a “staggering” reminder of the work ahead to build a diverse newsroom.
“It’s not enough to bring in diversity in our intern pool … journalists with diverse backgrounds must be represented throughout our operation, at all levels, and influencing all aspects of our coverage. We need to ensure their experiences within our newsroom and its culture are conducive to staying at the Star,” she said.
No doubt, the numbers are an indictment of the industry, laying bare the blunt truth that making newsrooms more representative was not a priority. Sure, people can cite financial hardships and downsizing — but even when newspapers were printing money, not enough was done.