July 2, 2015 2 Comments
I was a teensy bit pleased to see a tweet today from NOW columnist Jonathan Goldsbie saying that the Globe and Mail sounds like a shitty place to work, especially for women, with a link to Canadaland. It’s no secret. Systemic sexism is alive and well in Canada’s media industry, as it is in a ton of other places in Canada and around the world. It was only a matter of time before a well-known media critic like Jesse Brown wrote about it on his Canadaland site.
Brown’s journalism uncovers some big and important things sometimes such as the Jian Ghomeshi scandal, and sometimes, he is just too quick to publish things that could arguably have been based on rumours or bitter feelings from (ex-)employees with an agenda (This, for example).
In his latest story, “Women editors are fleeing the Globe and Mail,” Brown alleges that management at the Globe have a problem with women but doesn’t offer a shred of evidence why. In publishing this piece, Brown does a disservice to both journalism and women who legitimately have to push back against the glass ceiling.
He lists 17 women who have left the Globe in the last three years. Considering that the Globe has offered buyouts, laid people off and gone through several staffing changes in the last three years, the number alone doesn’t indicate that the paper has a problem with women. Brown doesn’t appear to have done any research to determine why these women are no longer at the Globe. There is no indication that he tried to contact them to find out if their reasons for leaving had anything to do with sexism. There is no comparison to the number of men who have left the Globe in the last three years – and off the top off my head, I can think of about 8-10 male staffers who also left in this time period.
I did an internship at the Globe a couple of years ago followed by a summer contract. It was a shrinking newsroom when I left and a couple of editors told me that it was their second year in a row with a hiring freeze. The Globe was a fantastic newsroom for me to work in, but I can think of all kinds of reasons why someone would want to leave – attractive buyout, lack of opportunities for growth, desire to explore different and emerging brands of journalism elsewhere, need for change, personal/health/family reasons…. these are all reasons Brown appears to not have thought of. By listing these 17 women in an article about patriarchy within the Globe, he implies that these women left because they were mistreated for being women. There is no relevance and there is no context.
Brown also names four female editors who have left in the last couple of weeks, and says that none of them “would speak to CANADLAND about their departures.” At least two of them soon revealed on Twitter that they hadn’t even been contacted for comment. Brown tweeted back to one of them to say he may have had the wrong email address.
@kat_hayward sorry, may have sent intvw request to incorrect email, Kathryn. Will you comment now? Eager to update with your input.
— Jesse Brown (@JesseBrown) July 2, 2015
It doesn’t matter. An ethical reporter should go beyond one email to try to contact a source, especially for a story that lacks urgency, and the reporter’s efforts to contact the source should be reflected in the story.
Brown is also careless with his use of anonymous sources. He doesn’t say how many people he spoke with. He just says “many.” He doesn’t say why these sources are qualified to speak on behalf of all the women who have left and it’s not clear if arguments made by each anonymous source is backed up by what other sources had to say as is the standard for anonymous sources. This is the standard that gives readers a reason to trust what anonymous sources have to say.
All in all, this is shoddy work and doesn’t meet the minimum standards of responsible journalistic reporting, in my opinion. It makes for a mildly titillating blog post, but it’s not journalism.
None of this is to say that Brown’s entire post is inaccurate. There are many nuggets of truth in it. Yes, the management at the top is dominated by men. So, it is unsurprising that a woman’s experience there can be quite different from a man’s. And that’s what irks me enough about Brown’s report to write about it. There is a real sexism problem within Canadian media. I can say that because I was asked to start a parenting blog as soon as an editor (NOT at the Globe) found out that I am a parent. In my personal experience, there is nothing quite like motherhood that deludes the rest of society into thinking that a woman must not be interested in anything but the welfare of her children the second she conceives. I have spoken with other female journalists who say they have had to fight tooth and nail to be foreign correspondents when editors decided they should stay on Canadian soil for the sake of their children. I have heard lots of stories from female reporters who have felt their male counterparts were always treated preferentially for no apparent reason by a couple of specific editors. I may or may not have experienced this myself. Systemic sexism can be powerful but subtle and hard to pinpoint. And there’s racism too. Where’s that investigative journalist who is also a woman of colour, Canada? There was that time I was asked to focus on a beat such as the “brown community.” (Again, NOT at the Globe.) Then there have been a few occasions when a white male with far less experience than me landed a job/assignment that I felt I was very well suited for. Unintentioned racism/sexism/nepotism/none of the above? I can’t say for sure. But this shit exists. For real. And I know I am not the only one to have experienced it.
Women, especially those who are starting out in this partially crumbling industry, are hesitant to talk about it. As I said before, it’s hard to talk about because it’s systemic. But it does need to be addressed at some point for real change to take place. It affects employee morale and welfare, and it affects what topics receive coverage, how topics are covered and the way news is presented.
On the face of it, it seems that Brown, in his role as media critic, has been callous about calling out journalists for nurturing a patriarchal culture. There is nothing earth-shattering in his report. If advocating for women’s rights is the end goal, this is not the kind of treatment that a topic of this gravitas should have. Our media landscape is dominated by white men. There was never a doubt that journalism is dictated by a masculine culture. Brown’s report is little more than a sensational headline that women are fleeing the Globe and Mail, but there are no reasons given as to why that is the case. The women I know are actively fighting sexism to have the meaningful careers they want, not quitting.
I would love to see Brown tackle this issue more seriously. I doubt anyone else is going to put their careers at stake to do so anytime soon. Specific sexist incidents may be hard to discover and verify, but I’ll bet he can find more concrete examples if he digs deep enough and fosters a relationship of trust with his sources. A few years ago, there was a conference full of female journalists who gave very solid examples of how sexism in the workplace has affected them and how they combat it. The evidence is out there.
p.s: It’s female editors, not women editors, damnit! Grammar!!