Letter from the Editor: Black lives, and Black stories, matter

Letters Opinions

How we are building a newsroom against racism

I’m not going to waste a second of your time with a series of platitudes about how the Martlet is against racism. Instead, I will explain why there are 54 names on our cover and detail our exact plans for making our reporting less racist.

Black, Indigenous, and People of Colour killed by police: a note on our cover

For our June issue, we are memorializing the names of the Black, Indigenous, and People of Colour killed by police in Canada on our cover. 

This is not a complete list — I selected 54 names from sources such as Remembering Black, Indigenous, and the Other People of Colour killed by Canadian Police by Desmond Cole, Deadly Force by CBC News, and the podcast Criminal‘s episode on “Starlight tours.” CBC reported that 135 Black, Indigenous, and other People of Colour were killed by police between 2000 and 2017. Black and Indigenous people are disproportionately represented in their data. 

As I was writing out these names, Chantal Moore, a 26-year-old woman from Tla-o-qui-aht First Nation on Vancouver Island, was killed by police in Edmunston, New Brunswick. Police were called in for a wellness check.

CBC’s Deadly Force article only indicates the name, age, race, and brief case details about these individuals. I Googled the names on this list to try to get more information about their lives, like how Josephine Pelletier was called “Sunshine Girl” by friends and family and Jason Collins, who was killed by police in Winnipeg this year, was a father of three teenage children.

There was a pattern with every single article, or series of articles. The articles stated the facts of the case and interviewed traumatized family members looking for answers about their relative’s death. The Special Investigations Unit (SIU) was reportedly called in to investigate — in Ontario, officers are acquitted in 97 per cent of SIU cases. Of the 461 cases CBC examined in 2017, just 18 of those cases resulted in convictions for the officers involved. So this pattern repeated itself — the articles could have been written from a template. 

“If a case involves a sensational amount of violence against a Black person, the media will cover it for one day, maybe a couple,” activist and author Desmond Cole said in an interview with Maclean’s. “But the media has a resistance to validating its own reporting that shows patterns of discrimination against Black people.”

The Martlet is doing our part to combat racism in the media. Here’s how: 

We pride ourselves on being an “agent of constructive social change,” as our mandate prescribes and we have an obligation to challenge and dismantle the systemic racism that impedes the voices and stories of racialized individuals from coming forward. Based on conversations with staff and on the Canadian Journalists of Colour and the Canadian Association of Black Journalists calls to action released last week, we will follow through with the following action points:

Systemic change to our newsroom 

  • The first call to action from CJC and CABJ is to “begin self-reporting of newsroom demographics on a regular basis.” Right now, we have 10 staff members. Seven of us are white. Our Business Manager will document and report on this on a semesterly basis.
  • Our Community Events space will become a space for the NSU and UVSS Advocacy Groups, including the Students of Colour Collective (SOCC), the Gender Empowerment Centre (GEM), Pride, and the Society for Students with Disabilities (SSD).
  • We will begin offering annual mandatory anti-racism training alongside our regular staff training.
  • Our monthly development workshops will regularly include the perspectives of talented BIPOC media professionals.
  • Our current Martlet staff have committed to three specific anti-racist action items that they will be doing, from education themselves to financial contributions to bail funds. I will hold myself and my staff accountable for this.

Elevating marginalized voices

  • We acknowledge that the majority of article submissions we receive are from white voices. We want to especially uplift racialized voices and BIPOC writers in our campus community. Recognizing that BIPOC voices have traditional, systemic barriers in accessing campus newsroom spaces, the Martlet is prepared to specifically offer support to BIPOC writers in crafting and writing.
  • We indicate on our hiring page that we welcome candidates from marginalized groups or identities and want a newsroom that “reflects the diversity of the university population,” but these are just words. The Martlet will expand our existing outreach efforts by reaching out to on-campus and community groups that represent BIPOC.
  • Dorothy Poon, a BIPOC staff writer, is writing a long form investigative piece on student’s experiences and institutional racism at UVic. 

Changes to how we write:

  • We will formalize an anti-racist approach to write about race in our style guide — we will capitalize “Black” and “Indigenous,” as has been the case for a while. This will be done through research and consultation with BIPOC communities.
  • Co-writing will be an encouraged option so that new BIPOC writers can work with other writers on articles and mentor each other. We will prioritize fostering BIPOC mentor-mentee relationships wherever possible.

Our role as journalists 

The existing Canadian media landscape has not adequately taken actionable steps to end the structural racism abhorrent in the major newsrooms in this country. Candian media, including the Martlet, must look within ourselves and honestly reckon with how we reproduce and reinforce racism. Dr. Candis Callison, a Tahltan UBC journalism professor and the co-author of Reckoning: Journalism’s Limits and Possibilities, spoke about this moment in time in a recent Toronto Star article.

“Journalists need to set aside their long love affair with objectivity and learn to locate themselves in terms of their social histories, relations, and obligations,” Callison said. “Journalists need to employ what we term systems journalism that covers events and issues not as one-offs but as intersections of societal systems and structures that have histories.”

Without diversity in our newsrooms, we are conveying a singular narrative of Canada — one uncritical of the racist fabric of our institutions. I hope that, with time, these changes at the Martlet may lead to a space where BIPOC voices feel empowered, are respected, and find a home to tell their stories. 

Black lives, and Black stories, matter.

Thank you to Dorothy Poon and Michael John Lo for their continued guidance in navigating how we can work towards making our newsroom truly anti-racist.