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By Tina Edan
Media is a critical part of any society. We invite journalists into our lives to inform how we look at the world, and ourselves. They cast powerful frames around what is important. They construct vivid images of who should be considered role models and influencers.
But, there is a disconnect. We know that our demographic reality is often not reflected in their stories. There is an absence of visible minority representation in the media, both in the newsroom and in the news.
This is as much the case in Toronto as it is in Berlin.
How do we know?
In Toronto, we counted. In 2010 we found that only 4.8% of decision makers in the media are members of visible minority groups. As well, visible minorities accounted for only 19.6% of the individuals appearing on-screen or in print (including broadcast hosts and reporters, print columnists, and expert speaking sources).
We convened a small group of media professionals and journalists to seek solutions to this challenge. We heard that journalists are busy people with increasingly limited time and resources. While many recognized the need to diversify their sources, they cited lack of time or networks as reasons they had not yet done so. We knew then that addressing the lack of diversity in the media required a simple and practical solution.
So, we created DiverseCity Voices, a database that profiles media savvy experts from visible minority communities across the Greater Toronto Area. And not just experts knowledgeable about diversity. Their areas of expertise range from the economy to neuroscience to baking. We then marketed this free service to journalists as an opportunity to access fresh voices on topics other than diversity.
What went sideways
We found some great allies and champions and, not surprisingly, news spread quickly among print, online, radio and television media. Journalists signed on and started using the service to source their stories. However, our highly-qualified, carefully selected group of diverse candidates were still most frequently asked to comment on stories about diversity.
We quickly realized that part of our service and success was helping journalists make connections with trusted sources. Change was not going to happen immediately. It would happen as journalists came to see the Voices candidates as trusted sources.
The good news: success!
When a journalist contacts someone to talk about diversity for the first time, we started to see the importance of these connections. As journalists got to know our experts, the next time they were looking for a source on politics or the environment, they might recall that individual as a reliable source. And, slowly, journalists began calling for diverse voices on stories with a focus beyond diversity.
We’re tracking the news footprint of DiverseCity Voices candidates. And we like what we’re hearing. With over 350 registered experts, we have tracked more than 800 stories, including Dr. Raywat Deonandan speaking on reproductive tourism, Lekan Olawoye on curbing gun violence by investing in youth and Sheniz Janmohammed on writer’s block.
An evolving perspective: media as allies
When we started asking diverse experts to participate in the DiverseCity Voices initiative, many were reluctant to join out of fear of the media. Would they be misquoted? Or asked to speak about things they were uncomfortable with? Some had previously negative experiences with journalists.
In addition to offering reassurance, we partnered with Media Profile, Canada’s largest public relations firm. They provide half-day intensive training to Voices candidates, including an on-camera component. We also developed a media relations resource section, complete with tip sheets on writing for and talking to the media.
Voices in Germany: international recognition
If imitation is flattery, replication is an unabashed testament to success. As of November 2012, DiverseCity Voices has been replicated inBerlin.
Der Vielfaltfinder (the diversity finder) is now live, and local experts have been invited to submit their profiles until January when the resource will be marketed to German media. It’s being run by New German Mediamakers, the BridgeBuilders by Bertelsmann and Deutsch Plus with support from the Bertelsmann Foundation and State Minister Böhmer’s office!
According to Astrid Ziebarth, board member of DeutschPlus and Director of the Immigration and Integration Program at the German Marshall Fund, “I recall how this started with admiration for DiversCity Voices, a simple but effective idea, finding collaborators inGermany and then just doing it. Thanks so much for having provided the source of inspiration!”