A recent survey that looks at the racial composition of newsrooms across the country suggests media companies have a long way to go if they want to diversify editorial teams, especially when it comes to full-time and supervisory roles.
National data released last month by The Canadian Association of Journalists on the racial and gender breakdown of newsroom staff shows 78 per cent of journalists identify as white, 4.6 per cent identify as Indigenous and 17.5 per cent identify as a visible minority.
The survey, conducted between March and August 2022, is based on voluntary responses from 242 print, radio, television and digital media organizations, representing 5,012 journalists.
The report says about eight in 10 newsrooms had no journalists on staff that identified as Latin, Middle Eastern, or mixed race, and eight in 10 had no Black or Indigenous journalists on staff. Nearly eight in 10 outlets also reported having no visible minorities or Indigenous people in their top three leadership positions.
The CAJ acknowledges in the report there are limitations to the data and the snapshot it provides, including that not all newsrooms in the county participated in the survey and that race data was unknown for approximately one-quarter of journalists.
John Miller, emeritus professor at Toronto Metropolitan University who has been championing for more diversity in the newsroom for about two decades, says he found the survey results disappointing and "equally as damning as last year’s," referring to the results of the CAJ's first diversity report in 2021.
“More work needs to be done as far as diversifying newsrooms in the country," Miller said in an interview last month.
“That burden rests on media executives of the various news organizations who must understand that our population is constantly changing and that they too must change to meet society where it is in terms of ... demographics."
He added that Canadians want to see themselves represented in the media.
Brian Daly, assistant professor of journalism at University of King’s College in Halifax, agrees.
“It is simply a matter of common sense. If a business knows that the demographics around it is changing, it has to change its modus operandi so it survives,” Daly said.
“The top executives in media have to know that the current business model is counterproductive because people of colour will not want to buy into their product if they cannot see themselves in their operations. That’s the bottom line,” he stressed.
The CAJ notes media organizations should be transparent about the gender and racial makeup in their newsrooms as many of them “regularly report on the diversity of political cabinets and businesses.” It also notes similar data has been collected in the United States since 1978.
“The media should start acting right first before asking all of society to do the same,” said Miller.
Men outnumber women in top media leadership roles, with the survey finding 54.3 per cent of top newsroom leaders identify as men, 44.3 per cent identify as women and 1.3 per cent identify as non-binary.
"Eighty-three per cent of supervisors identify as white, compared to 2.7 per cent who identify as Black, 3.5 per cent identify as Indigenous and 5.5 per cent who identify as Asian," the report states.
The report also notes diversity is higher among part-time and internship roles.
Black, Middle Eastern, and mixed-race journalists saw their percentages rise modestly in 2022, the data shows — for instance, in 2021, Black journalists accounted for 2.5 per cent of newsroom staff, compared to 3 per cent in 2022.
Author and journalist Desmond Cole says he is none too pleased with what he calls “this incremental change."
"I am sorry to say this is not change. As I read this report, far too many journalists of colour are still being hired partially, so they should not even count in the big picture of things,” says Cole, who has spent many years working in several media outlets in Canada and whose book “The Skin We're In” is based on his efforts to fight anti-Black racism.
“I know many Black people in the journalism profession who cannot make a living wage working for these so-called big media companies.” Cole said.
According to the 2021 CAJ data, 21.4 per cent of the supervisory roles at the CBC were held by visible minorities or Indigenous people, which increased to 31.1 per cent this year.
"There have been a lot of changes at the CBC in the area of diversity,” said Susan Marjetti, general manager for CBC News, Current Affairs and Local, stressing that the CAJ should be lauded for its work “because what gets measured gets changed.”
“We are definitely taking this report seriously as we have in the previous year,” says Susan Marjetti, general manager for CBC News, Current Affairs and Local.
Apart from the CBC's Developing Emerging Leaders program, which began in 2017 to harness talent from equity-seeking groups for the future, Marjetti saysthe company also has a newsroom training program on inclusion, and the Indigenous Pathway project, both of which seek to train and hire more BIPOC journalists and include their voices in CBC coverage.
“I believe that commitment at the top of any organization is important,” Marjetti said.
Andrea Baillie, Editor-in-Chief of The Canadian Press, said in a statement the results of the survey show there is still a great deal of work to be done.
"The Canadian Press has put various initiatives in place to add new perspectives to our newsrooms; it’s a top priority. The diversity of our workforce is slowly changing but we need to retain new staffers, ensure they feel heard and promote them into senior positions.”
Brent Jolly, president of the CAJ, says one major challenge for instigating change is an ingrained bias that hiring teams might harbour.
“Often, people hire those who look like them. That has been documented,” he said, stressing the surveys the CAJ have embarked upon will “serve as a call to action for those in charge ... That’s my hope,” he said.
— Peter Uduehi is a Toronto-based journalist and publisher and editor of African World News.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 6, 2023.
Peter Uduehi, The Canadian Press