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Why is Toronto's media still so white?

Toronto Star newsroom, December 17, 1930. Photo: Toronto History​/Flickr

The Toronto Star welcomed news that a majority of its city's population now identifies as non-white by issuing a challenge to what it called the leading civic institutions: it's time to step up to the plate and reflect this diversity.

In an editorial, the paper said, "there's still a yawning gap between Toronto's demographic reality and the makeup of its leadership in almost all sectors -- political, economic and social."

The Star's warning came the day after results of the 2016 census were released, showing that 51.5 per cent of Toronto's population identified as a member of a visible minority, marking the first time more than half the population of Canada's largest city has said that.

But instead of earning points for courageous leadership, the Star is guilty of myopia. Or, to extend the baseball analogy, it took its eye off the ball and struck out swinging.

To bolster its case, it quoted from a 2011 research report from Ryerson University showing that visible minorities comprised only 11 per cent of the region's elected officials at city hall, Queen's Park and Ottawa. Nor did big business measure any better. The report showed only 4.2 per cent of corporate leadership roles were held by visible minorities.

It's perhaps telling that the Star didn't refer to the previous year's report of the DiverseCity Counts project, which used the same standards to look at Toronto's media representations of diversity.

Or perhaps the paper no longer considers itself one of the city's "leading institutions."

I co-authored that research, and it showed the following:

Only 5 of 138 senior managers of the city's leading newspaper and television companies were non-white -- a meagre 3.6 per cent. That's far behind the corresponding percentages of elected officials, public sector employees, the voluntary sector and government agencies, boards and commissions.

Newspaper columnists? Only 16 of 471 columns, or 3.4 per cent, were written by visible minorities, including none in sports and only one in the business sections of the Star, Globe and Mail, National Post and Sun.

Broadcasters fared a little better, but visible minorities made only two of 42 appearances as hosts -- 4.8 per cent -- and 56 of 244 appearances as on-air reporters, or 22.5 per cent.

These numbers are unfortunately reflected in news coverage. "Everyday life stories" on television news, for example, included visible minorites only 23 per cent of the time -- 46 of 200 speaking sources on CBC, CTV, City TV, Global and TVO. These are stories that affect everyone, from weather and traffic to reports of local community events and consumer activity.

That was the picture seven years ago. No similar research has been conducted since, but I believe the percentages of visible minorities in media could be much lower today, since many newsrooms have undergone economic layoffs and buyouts, which usually result in the most recent hires getting let go.

Diversity in our media matters because our newspapers and television stations are supposed to reflect reality. If our mirror on society is distorted, our opinions gets skewed, and most people form their opinions about contentious issues like race, immigration and social justice by reading newspapers or watching TV news.

When the Star says "all sectors in the city must seek out the best talent for leadership positions, regardless of background," we have the right to ask the paper if it's really walking that walk, or just talking that talk.

From media executive to media critic, John Miller has seen journalism from all sides (and he often doesn’t like what he sees). He draws on his 40 years in news, including five years as deputy managing editor of the Toronto Star, and 10 years as chairman of the School of Journalism at Ryerson University. His 1998 book Yesterday’s News documented how newspapers were forfeiting their role as our primary information source. This column originally appeared on John’s blog, www.thejournalismdoctor.ca

Photo: Toronto History​/Flickr

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