Monday Must: Taking up space as a (non-white) journalist in Canada
I’m Vanmala Subramaniam and I’m a business journalist with The Globe and Mail. I report on everything to do with how companies make money and lose money. I charted the explosive rise of the cannabis industry, and then I subsequently covered its dramatic fall, which really was one long tale of greed and irrational exuberance.
I grew up in Malaysia, and arrived in Canada alone at 19 for university. English was and has always been my first language, but I had a pretty thick accent, and became incredibly conscious of it while navigating predominantly white spaces over the years. I’ve learned a lot of lessons about building confidence as a minority in majority-white environments like the media, and I wanted to share a few “musts” with all of you.
It’s not easy being the only person who doesn’t look or think or sound like the majority in a work space. In journalism, your story ideas are your bread and butter and your perspective as a minority matters so much. So try as best as you can to be loud in pitch meetings. By that I mean to say, if you feel your idea is not being taken seriously because it’s simply not conventional, ask why. Be the person that pesters your superiors for an answer.
Read a lot, read everything
This probably applies to all budding journalists, regardless of race: read widely. If you grew up in Canada only reading Canadian news, make it a habit to read the pages of newspapers from other countries. If you’re a business journalist, don’t just read the business pages of a paper. Read and absorb politics, sports, entertainment. Understanding how different worlds and spaces and power brokers intersect will make you stand out in a newsroom.
Take a break, especially from social media
Journalism is tough. You have to stay plugged in to various social media platforms all the time, and that takes a toll. BIPOC journalists in this country have it even worse, often enduring streams of online hate sent their way. I often just plug off completely for a weekend, and temporarily delete apps like Twitter from my phone just to feel like I’m getting a break from work.
Accept the most current version of yourself
Coming back to the whole accent thing, I had a manager once tell me that he did not know how to “deal” with my accent when I was participating in try-outs for a radio reporting gig. That stuck with me and was obviously a huge blow to my confidence. 10 years have passed since, and I’ve slowly learned to just speak the way I speak. I also don’t let people mispronounce my name anymore, and I have no trouble calling them out for it.
Your perspective is as important as anyone else’s
I often feel like the combination of being young and brown in a newsroom has resulted in my opinions not being taken very seriously. Heck, I’m 35 and even felt that recently at a work meeting! But it’s important to remember that as much as you should learn from someone with more experience than you, they should learn from you too, because you’re bringing something different to the table. It can be empowering entering a meeting with that attitude.
Here are some of the best pieces I’ve read over the past year on being a non-white journalist in North America:
Objectivity Is a Privilege Afforded to White Journalists
The Convenient Lie of 'Objectivity'
Soledad O’Brien: A MeToo Moment for Journalists of Color