On June 19, 2014, the Public Editor reflected on what more the Toronto Star can do to reflect the diversity of the Greater Toronto Area in its coverage. She writes, "the reality remains that on most days the Star still falls short of producing a newspaper and website that looks like the Toronto we see when we walk our city streets, play in our parks, shop, dine out, ride transit." In doing this work, she notes that this means addressing issues of diversity in hiring and promotion.
It is important to ensure that the newspaper's coverage and its reporters reflect the rich diversity of the city. However, the Toronto Star needs to extend its diversity analysis to how stories are reported and should also be considering the following:
1) Reporters need equity literacy and to be systemically aware – Reporters not only need to report on the issues of concern to people of colour, they need to understand the systems which create and perpetuate inequality in society (which impact our lives greatly) and the interrelatedness of the inequalities in various aspects of society. The tendency is to report on individuals without putting that story into the context of the institutions and structures which create unequal outcomes for people of colour.
2) The Toronto Star needs to use language that is more inclusive and respectful.
While I read wonderful opinion pieces and articles in the Star, at times I am frustrated and offended by the language used – “the Black” should the “the Black person / man / woman”, “the disabled” should be “persons with disabilities.”
The Star also needs to move toward gender neutral language – police officer not policeman, firefighter not fireman. The consistent use of gender specific job titles reinforces the perception that there are jobs for men and jobs for women.
I've also found that the language used to describe Black leaders (for example bombastic, charismatic) aren't used for White leaders whose personality is often not described in the story. These descriptors reflect the bias in evaluating the performance of Black professionals and the tendency to attribute the Black leader's success to personality traits rather than to actual competence.
Various studies have shown that the success of a Black person is often perceived as coming from personality (or natural athletic skills in sports) rather than actual competence. White success is seen as coming from smarts and leadership ability. Describing Black leaders differently than White leaders both reflects the biases of the reporter and reinforces them among Star readers.
That being said, kudos to the Toronto Star for reflecting on how it reports on the most diverse region in the country - and how they reflect this diversity back to us - and for discussing it so publicly. I hope that this is just part of a full diversity analysis at the newspaper.
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Tana Turner is Principal of Turner Consulting Group Inc. She has over 30+ years of experience in the area of equity, diversity and inclusion.