Here's your chance to help define what journalism is in Canada

Plus! I reveal the first hires for my yet-to-be announced publication.

Hey y’all! Anita here. I’ve long been interested in how ethics are applied in journalism because of their evolving nature. Since media coverage both reflects and impacts the public, it’s essential to take stock of ethical frameworks in news on an ongoing basis to ensure they’re consistent with the times 😇

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My insider’s approach

For the past two years, I’ve been a member of the Canadian Association of Journalists’ ethics advisory committee (EAC), whose mandate is to consider and provide advice on ethical issues faced by journalists in their work. One of my favourite EAC projects is developing our “What is Journalism?” discussion paper, which aims to define the practice of journalism in Canada.

Instead of focusing on practitioners, however, we focused on activities. So, the EAC came up with three criteria that an individual must meet before they can call something a work of journalism. That way, job titles won’t impact the way the journalism is perceived; in other words, it doesn’t matter if you’re a Blogger or an Investigative Reporter — as long as you meet all three criteria, you can call it journalism.

The EAC proposes that journalism is an activity that includes:

  1. the pursuit of truth for its audiences,

  2. an act of creation and

  3. a particular set of methods

While teaching a journalism innovation class at Ryerson University earlier this year, I asked my students for their feedback on the paper, and they had fantastic insights that thoughtfully address changing mores in Canadian society. Here are some highlights:

  • Students emphasized that although objective reality exists, different groups of people see different “truths,” so it’s important to ensure that multiple sources can verify an interpretation of a set of facts.

  • In The Elements of Journalism, authors Bill Kovach and Tom Rosenstiel argue that “the primary purpose of journalism is to provide citizens with the information they need to be free and self-governing.” Students wanted this perspective to be reflected in the EAC’s discussion paper because the media is a pillar of democracy and democracies worldwide are under threat. So, if news outlets are not serving this purpose, they’re working against the public and by extension, democracy, which requires the public to exercise their individual right to vote. 

  • The discussion paper simply states that “history often shapes the context of news-media coverage,” so students wanted this point to be fleshed out. They said historicizing an issue in a meaningful way could lead to a more ethical approach to news-gathering. One student cited the example of reporting Indigenous groups as “land defenders” rather than “protesters.”

  • Students wanted more clarity on the requirement that journalists provide “an honest representation of intent to sources.” Specifically, they asked how “intent” was defined. For example, if a journalist is going undercover to investigate shady government practices, how would they convey intent to a government source? 

  • Students wanted to add a point about transparency, specifically that journalists should be transparent about their news-gathering process and why they’re covering a particular story, including where the idea came from. One student said being transparent about all the sources you’re consulting for a story is one way to give “an honest representation of intent to sources” without explicitly and needlessly telling sources your exact angle.

Sound off: Please add your comments to the “What is Journalism?” doc and tell us how you define Canadian journalism.

My outsider’s approach

I have a big update to share about my yet-to-be announced publication: I’ve hired four fellows! Tomorrow, I’ll be hosting a fellowship kickoff meeting and welcoming our three News Innovation Fellows and one Business Development Innovation Fellow (formal introductions TK in future newsletters…). 

Ethics was top of mind while I was drawing up their contracts. As someone who believes strongly that companies should pay a livable wage to their employees, but who is also running a startup with limited resources, one conundrum I kept coming up against was how I could fairly compensate the fellows at this stage in my company’s growth.

I’ve been employed by several media startups that exploited workers either by paying them low or no wages for long hours worked — including one that publicly espoused the importance of supporting community and upholding transparency. At one point, every employee at this company agreed to take a significant pay cut to keep the business afloat during a particularly financially challenging time. Later on, as things got worse and the company downsized, some of us worked for free for a period of time. I consented both times because I was completely invested in our mission, so I don’t hold these events against my former boss. But after the company went under, this same boss asked me to continue performing tasks for free, which I obviously declined. Combined with other unprofessional acts, what emerged was a pattern of behaviour that at best, made me deeply uncomfortable and at worst, betrayed a lack of ethics.

That’s not the kind of employer I want to be. 

It’s incredibly important to me to walk the walk, and build a company that has a genuinely strong ethical foundation. No shortcuts, no disrespecting employees — I’d rather “fail” than exploit because to me, exploitation is failure.

That’s why I consulted my business coach Petra Kassun-Mutch, a visionary serial entrepreneur who runs Liisbeth, an online magazine for feminist entrepreneurs (and also the 2021 Digital Publishing Awards’ silver winner for for best editorial newsletter!), on how I should compensate my fellows. Petra suggested that I calculate their total compensation based on current recommendations for a livable wage, and then divide that up into monetary and non-monetary forms of compensation (in my case, for the latter, I’m providing the equivalent in consulting hours). Naturally, after my news outlet officially launches and starts generating revenue, I plan to pay fellows fully with monetary compensation.

Tell me: How would you fairly compensate workers at an early-stage startup?


Shout-outs

Many thanks to Maija Saari, former associate dean of film, TV and journalism at Sheridan College, for supporting The Other Wave from the very beginning.


In my community

  • Way back in 2008, I attended ReGénération, the fourth World Youth Congress in Québec City, as a “Young Journalist.” It was a life-changing experience where I befriended other young journalists from around the world, many of whom I still keep in touch with after 13 years.

  • Read this [    ] Review of Journalism profile of my friend and frequent collaborator, Nadia Stewart, who’s also the Canadian Association of Black Journalists executive director. It looks at her work combating systemic racism in Canadian journalism, including our orgs’ Calls to Action to strengthen newsroom diversity.

  • I’ll be co-hosting Table Talks: Ensuring Information Access Equity in Our Communities with trailblazing community journalist Vanessa Maria Graber at the Online News Association’s 2021 virtual conference, which takes place from June 22 to 25. Register for #ONA21 now! 

  • April Fong, The Logic’s deputy managing editor, asked me to share this great new year-long training program for BIPOC journalists offered by the outlet. Applications are due tomorrow.


Cool stuff I like

  • I recommend checking out Wealthnuvo, a disruptive new wealth management platform focused on empowering women to have confidence in their decisions around money. I first met Lianne Hannaway, the company’s brilliant founder, when I interviewed venture capitalist Arlan Hamilton back in 2019. 

  • Throughout lockdown, my fiancé and I became nerdily obsessed with watching Timeline, a YouTube channel that posts documentaries about world history. It’s basically what the History Channel was before it became the Ancient Alien Channel

  • I plan to listen to the RICE Asian Comedy Podcast, hosted by Vong Show, a top Asian-Canadian standup comedian who’s performed at CBC’s Glenn Gould Studio (and my birthday party). 

  • I re-read Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe for one of my book clubs, and it’s just as heartbreaking and illuminating as when I first read the 1958 masterpiece back in undergrad. 


Last thought

We have the capacity for compassion. We simply don't practise it to any degree. It's more an ideal that we hang on a wall where it's easy to see and almost impossible to reach.

- Thomas King, Indians On Vacation


How you can support The Other Wave

My professional mission has always been to support the global movement towards more thoughtful, impactful news coverage, and all the ways that manifests. If The Other Wave gets you to think even a little differently about journalism, especially in Canada, then I will have accomplished what I set out to do. And if TOW gets you to take action and support Canadian media outlets — especially ones that strive to be innovative and inclusive — I will have exceeded my expectations.

If my values and goals resonate with you, please consider supporting fiercely independent media analysis that fills in gaps in coverage of the Canadian journalism landscape. How? Feel free to provide feedback, pass along resources, donate money or simply share this newsletter with your friends.